WATERFORD, Ohio — When the Eastern Eagles needed the big plays, all they had to do was turn to the ground game and there they were.
Eastern racked up 392 yards rushing on 44 carries and scored five touchdowns on the ground as the Eagles soared past Waterford 39-6 at Waterford Elementary School Friday night.
The Eagles’ 392 yards rushing was 313 more than Waterford managed as a team, and both running back Ethan Nottingham and quarterback Joey Scowden rushed for more yards individually than the Wildcats’ combined.
“We played well, but we’ve got to get better. We had over 100 yards in penalties,” said Eastern football coach David Tennant.
Penalties were about the only thing the Eagles did wrong, as they racked up 12 of them for 110 yards in the game.
Despite all those miscues, the Eagles still put up 15 first downs and outgained Waterford by a 488-113 margin, converting on numerous third downs.
“Every time we had them third and long, they made it. We didn’t get any stops when we needed to make stops,” said Waterford football coach Tom Tucker.
As good as the ground game was, it still took a little while for the Eagles to get going.
Eastern turned the ball over on downs on its first possession, and punted on the second, but then tallied two touchdowns on the next four plays to go ahead 13-0.
Scowden got the scoring started when he scampered in from 46 yards out with 3:01 to play in the first quarter, and then Eastern turned to a little trickery on a third and 14 at their own 44.
Facing the long third down, Scowden completed a pass to Max Carnahan, and Carnahan flipped the ball to Nottingham, who covered the remaining 56 yards to paydirt for a 13-0 Eagle advantage with 18.1 seconds in the first quarter.
Down 13-0, Waterford strung together a long drive, as the Wildcats took more than eight minutes off the clock. But with the ball situated at the Eastern 14, a pair of penalties and a sack of sophomore quarterback Joe Pugh doomed the drive.
“Our kids played hard. We had a lot of good plays, and then we’d have an offsides or we’d have a hold,” Tucker lamented.
The Wildcats finally got on the board with 1:51 to play in the first half when Kyle Miller intercepted a screen pass by Eastern and gave Waterford the ball at the Eagles’ 5-yard line. One play later, Derek Brown gave the Wildcats’ their only score.
“That was a great play on their part. You can’t take it away from them,” Tennant said.
Leading by just a single score, the Eagles took advantage of Waterford’s miscues to transform the game.
Eastern took possession at their own 49 after the kickoff return, and moved down to the 20 before a pair of sacks and an incomplete pass set up a fourth-and-30.
Scowden then completed a pass to Nottingham for 20 yards, and the Eagles benefited from a personal foul penalty against Waterford to take a first down at the 10. Scowden then scampered into the end zone on the next play to set the halftime score, 19-6 in favor of Eastern.
After a first half that was very competitive, Eastern turned up the heat in the second half, allowing Waterford to run just 14 plays from scrimmage in the second half, excluding punts.
Gaining 110 yards in the first half, the Wildcats managed just three yards of offense in the final two quarters of play.
“We still thought coming into the second half if we came out and made a statement that first drive we’d be okay,” Tucker said.
Instead of a statement, the Wildcats saw their first drive of the second half end quickly as Pugh’s pass was intercepted by Alex Amos, who recorded a pair of picks in the game.
Eastern then covered 56 yards to score, with Scowden connecting with Nottingham on a 6-yard touchdown pass with 9:02 in the third quarter.
A three-and-out by the Wildcats, who did not gain a first down in the second half after a personal foul penalty against Eastern on the first play from scrimmage, gave the ball back to the Eagles.
Five plays later, Scowden recorded his third rushing TD of the game, this time from 23 yards out.
The final score of the game came again via the ground, with Scowden running in from 27 yards out with 7:39 to play amidst some tensions on the field.
On Scowden’s run, a minor fisticuff took place on the field, with the officials initially electing to eject a pair of players, one each from the Wildcats and Eagles.
Instead of the ejection, the officials decided to have the coaches remove the players from the game, thereby making them eligible to play next week. Under Ohio High School Athletic Association guidelines, any player ejected in an athletic contest must sit out the next two games, or one game in football.
Following the brief flaring of tempers, the two teams reserve units traded stalled drives, with Eastern running out the clock when Triston Goodnite picked up seven yards to push the ground total to its final mark of 392 for the Eagles.
“We played well, but I can’t wait until we start doing the little things right, because it’ll be really special,” Tennant said.
Kevin Pierson is a sports writer at the Marritta Times in Marritta Ohio.