HOWARD, Ohio — The problem wasn’t moving the ball between the goal lines. The problem was getting the ball beyond those boundaries.
Fourth-seeded East Knox built a 41-point cushion through three quarters of play and ultimately handed the Eastern football team a 41-13 setback on Saturday night in a Division VII, Region 27 football contest at Chet Looney Stadium.
The 13th-seeded Eagles (4-5) moved the ball into EKHS territory on three of its first four offensive drives of the first half, but the guests were ultimately stonewalled in the opening 24 minutes while the Bulldogs (9-2) established a comfortable 34-0 halftime advantage.
With the second half beginning with a continuously running clock due to the 30-point lead, East Knox started the third period with a 9-play, 51-yard drive that ended at the 4:24 mark with a Cole DeLaughder 6-yard run for a commanding 41-0 edge.
EHS finally had some offensive success in the fourth after both of its possessions resulted in touchdown drives.
After a short punt gave the guests the ball at the EKHS 26, the Eagles needed only one play to cover the distance and get on the board as Jayden Evans hauled in a 26-yard pass from Brady Yonker for a 41-7 contest with 10:38 left in regulation.
Bryce Newland — who had 20 rushing attempts in the first half — tacked on a 9-yard scamper with 57.6 seconds remaining to complete the 28-point outcome.
East Knox sandwiched a pair of TD runs around a pick-6 in the first quarter to build a 20-point lead, then tacked on a pair of Peyton Lester passes in the second stanza en route to the 34-point lead at the midway point.
The difference in this game wasn’t so much the lack of competitiveness that could be expected in a 4-13 matchup, but rather Eastern’s inability to finish drives with points.
That part was particularly tough for EHS coach Pat Newland to accept afterwards, but he was also quick to note that the Bulldogs had a lot to do with that problem too.
“It’s been a great journey with these kids. These kids have never quit at any point in their careers, much like they didn’t quit tonight, and I am so proud of them for continuing to fight and scrape and claw until the end,” Newland said. “It’s frustrating when you can move the ball a little bit here and there and not have anything to show for it, but you also have to give East Knox a lot of credit for that because they have a pretty good football team over there with some speed. They are a four-seed for a reason.”
The Bulldogs produced TD drives on their first four possessions, with Shane Knepp providing the eventual game-winning score on a 17-yard scamper with 7:56 left in the first quarter.
Knepp then picked off a pass on Eastern’s ensuing drive and returned it 66 yards for a 13-0 edge with 4:05 remaining in the opener. DeLaughder added a 12-yard TD run with 1:06 left for a 20-point cushion after one period of play.
The Eagles’ next drive ate up almost nine minutes of clock and covered 82 yards in 15 plays, but the guests came up two yards short of paydirt on a fourth-and-goal attempt.
EKHS answered with a 10-play, 95-yard drive that ended with a 27-yard TD pass from Lester to DeLaughder with 1:16 left until halftime.
The Green and White tried to put together something with their final possession of the half, but ultimately elected to punt with a fourth-and-10 situation at their own 45.
Unfortunately, the snap to the punter sailed over his head, resulting in a 15-yard loss and a turnover on downs with 39.4 seconds left.
Two plays and 30 yards later, Lester found Knepp on a 30-yard scoring pass that gave the Purple and Gold a sizable 34-0 advantage headed into the break.
East Knox claimed a 16-9 edge in first downs and outgained EHS by a 303-169 overall margin in total yards of offense, which included a 125-39 advantage through the air.
The Bulldogs — who advance to face Trimble in the next round of the Region 27 playoff bracket — had the only takeaway of the contest.
Bryce Newland led the EHS rushing attack with 128 yards on 28 attempts, followed by Evans with 11 yards on five totes.
Tonker completed 3-of-10 passes for 39 yards, with Evans, Newland and Brayden Smith each hauling in a pass for 26, 3 and 10 yards respectively.
DeLaughder led the hosts with 106 rushing yards on 13 carries and Lester was 7-of-12 passing for 124 yards and two scores. Knepp led the EKHS wideouts with two catches for 55 yards.
Pat Newland — who is now finishing his eighth season in his second stint as Eastern coach — was emotional when referencing his final night on the gridiron with these seniors.
As he pointed out afterwards, there is a lot to be proud of when recollecting about the last four years with this group of young men.
“I’ve been around a lot of these seniors since third grade, so this group is pretty special to me personally,” Newland said. “They are also the only group of seniors in Eastern football history to play in three straight postseasons, and that’s something that they should be proud of as well. They’ve really helped us raise the bar of this program over the last four years.”
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Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.