CALDWELL, Ohio — Redemption, and a spot in the Region 27 quarterfinals.
The Eastern football team — which dropped its season-opener 34-20 at Caldwell — met with the sixth-seeded Redskins in the second round of the Region 27 playoffs on Friday, with the 11th-seeded Eagles earning a 26-14 victory on Howard J. Devol Memorial Field in Noble County.
Each team turned the ball over on their first drives of the game, with Bryce Newland forcing a fumble and Brad Hawk recovering for the Eagles (5-2), before an interception by Whyatt Parks got the ball back for the Redskins (4-3).
After forcing a three-and-out, Eastern went 39 yards in seven plays, with senior Steve Fitzgerald scoring his first of three touchdowns on a one-yard run. Will Oldaker made the point-after kick, giving the guests a 7-0 lead with 1:14 left in the first period.
On the second play of the ensuing CHS drive, Oldaker forced a fumble, and Newland recovered for the Green and White.
The Eagles faced a fourth-and-seven on the third play of the second quarter, but a pass from Brady Yonker to Conner Ridenour moved the chains and put the guests a yard from the end zone.
On Eastern’s third attempt from the one, Yonker found his way into the end zone, giving EHS a 13-0 lead with 9:33 left in the half.
Caldwell went three-and-out again on its next drive, and Eastern took over 52 yards from paydirt. Fitzgerald carried the ball three consecutive times to cover the 52 yards, scoring from 23 yards out. Oldaker made the extra-point kick, pushing the Eagle lead 20-0 with 6:21 left in the half.
Next, the CHS offense came up with its first successful drive, going 80 yards in eight plays, capped off by an 11-yard touchdown pass from Braxton Dudley to Dawlson Moore. T.J. Wehr ran in the two-point conversion, cutting Eastern’s lead to 20-8 with 1:32 left in the first half.
Eastern was picked off on its final possession of the first half, but was back in the end zone on the first drive after the break. EHS went 57 yards on three straight carries by Fitzgerald, who made the Eagle lead 26-8 on a 21-yard touchdown run 1:13 into the second half.
Over the remainder of the third quarter, each team punted once and turned the ball over on downs once.
Caldwell was in the red zone on its first possession of the fourth period, but Ridenour intercepted a pass four yards from the goal line.
EHS took over 5:30 off the clock and made it to the CHS 32 before giving the ball back to the hosts with just 3:14 to play.
The Red and Black needed eight plays to cover the 68 yards, and a 19-yard touchdown pass from Dudley to Brandan Piskula came with 52 seconds left in regulation.
Fitzgerald recovered the on-side kick attempt for Eastern, sealing the 26-14 win and the spot in the Region 27 quarterfinals.
Following the program’s first-ever playoff win, seventh-year Eagles head coach Pat Newland talked about facing the Redskins, and how his team made up for the loss of Blake Newland, a starting running back and linebacker who missed the game with an injury.
“They were the No. 2 team in our region in points, they beat us earlier this season, and they were voted sixth, so they’re a legitimate playoff team,” Coach Newland said. “It’s a great win and a great feeling, our kids just played hard. We talked about elevating our level because we had Blake out, and everybody did. Everybody just got a little bit better, and when 22 positions do that, it’s great.”
For the game, EHS had a 297-to-277 edge in total offense, with a 255-to-127 advantage on the ground. Caldwell claimed a 20-to-16 edge in first downs, but lost the turnover battle by a 3-to-2 count. The Eagles were penalized three times for 35 yards, while CHS was sent back 30 yards on six flags.
Fitzgerald finished with a game-best 234 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries for the Eagles. Ridenour combined three catches with one carry for 59 total yards, while Colton Combs picked up 17 yards on seven carries. Yonker completed 3-of-5 passes for 42 yards in the win.
For Caldwell, Dudley — who was 10-of-22 passing for 140 yards and two touchdowns — led the way on the ground with 83 yards on 18 carries. Piskula caught a game-best five passes for 74 yards and a touchdown, while Parks had four receptions for 46 yards.
Skylar Vanfossen — who caught one 19-yard pass — completed his only pass attempt for 10 yards and first down on a fake punt.
Next, Eastern will visit River in the Region 27 quarterfinals on Friday. The third-seeded Pilots stopped Waterford on a two-point conversion attempt, securing a 7-6 victory on Friday in Hannibal.
“We haven’t seen anything on River yet, but I’m sure they’re a great team,” Coach Newland said. “I know Waterford was a really good team, they played us hard, we played them hard, it was great. We’re looking forward to the challenge, and the opportunity to play another week in the playoffs.”
The Eagles will take a five-game winning streak into their quarterfinal matchup.
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Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.