MASON, W.Va. — The difference was in the defense.
The Eastern football team forced two first half turnovers, held host Wahama without a first down for over 15 minutes and made a late goal-line stand Friday night during a 34-20 victory in a Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division matchup at Bachtel Stadium in Mason County.
The Eagles (4-3, 3-2 TVC Hocking) led wire-to-wire in the Week 7 triumph as the guests led 6-0 after one period of play, thanks to the first of three rushing touchdowns by Jett Facemyer. Facemyer’s first score of the night covered one yard and capped a nine-play, 76-yard drive at the 8:30 mark.
EHS then turned Nate Durst’s second interception of the night into points as the Green and White stormed out to a 14-point cushion. Josh Brewer capped a three-play, 18-yard drive with a nine-yard scamper with 10:30 remaining in the opening half.
The White Falcons (2-5, 1-5) — who managed only seven yards of offense on their first 11 snaps from scrimmage — came up with their first first down of the game on a delayed screen pass from Bryton Grate to Christian Thomas. Thomas covered 78 yards to paydirt on the play, which allowed WHS to close to within 14-6 with 8:53 remaining.
EHS — which surrendered only four first downs and 149 yards of total offense in the first half — needed just eight plays to respond as Jeremiah Martindale capped a 65-yard drive after hauling in a 20-yard scoring pass from Facemyer with 4:54 remaining, giving the guests a 21-6 edge.
The Red and White — who also forced two turnovers before the break — came up with an interception as Jacob Fisher picked off a Facemyer pass and returned it to the EHS 38-yard line.
Four plays later, Wahama was back to within a possession as Colton Arrington plunged in from a yard out with 3.1 seconds remaining — making it a 21-14 contest at the break.
Wahama had possession to start the second half, but a seven-play drive ultimately stalled out as a result of loss of downs at the Eastern 19.
The Eagles answered by going 81 yards in eight plays, with Facemyer capping the drive with a 37-yard scoring run at the 4:21 mark — making it a 28-14 contest headed into the finale.
Wahama’s ensuing drive lasted 14 plays and covered 62 yards, but a fourth-and-goal run from the Eastern four ultimately resulted in a one-yard loss and a loss of downs — giving the guests possession at their own five with 8:42 left in regulation.
The Eagles were forced to punt and WHS reclaimed possession at its own 42-yard line with 4:02 remaining, but the White Falcon drive stalled on downs just eight yards later.
With possession at midfield, EHS drove a nail into the proverbial coffin with a five-play, 50-yard drive that was finished off by a 41-yard touchdown run by Facemyer — making it a 34-14 contest with 1:47 left.
Wahama answered with a six-play, 55-yard drive that was capped off by an eight-yard touchdown pass from Grate to Thomas with 5.1 seconds left in regulation — wrapping up the 14-point difference.
The Eagles outgained the hosts by a sizable 422-290 overall mark in total yards of offense, which included a 256-174 advantage in the ground attack. Both teams also committed two turnovers apiece, with Fisher also recovering a fumble for Wahama in the first half.
The White Falcons ran a total of 56 offensive plays from scrimmage in the contest, and Eastern held the hosts to no gains or worse on 13 of those plays while also coming away with two interceptions.
Afterwards, EHS coach Pat Newland was pleased with how well his troops performed — particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
“Coach Barr is a good coach and he gets his guys ready to play week in and week out, so we knew it was going to be a battle. With the exception of the two turnovers, I thought we did a really good job of executing in the first half,” Newland said. “Give Wahama credit because they were moving the ball down the field on us, but when they got in the red zone — we manned up and became football players.
“We really wanted to run the football tonight and we did, especially coming out of halftime. That was key for us because we haven’t always had the best of luck against Wahama. This is a huge win for us and it should give our guys some confidence moving forward. We just have to keep working hard and make sure we are prepared every week like we were this week.”
On the flip side for WHS coach Dave Barr, there were a handful of positives to come out of the evening — like producing 116 passing yards or overcoming two turnovers and a 14-point deficit early in the first half to make it a competitive contest.
Still, the outcome was hard to stomach because of the rough start — but the effort was also noticed.
“I’m not happy that we didn’t win, but I am proud of the fact that the guys battled throughout the entire evening,” Barr said. “The sad thing is it took us about a quarter and a half to get things rolling. It’s almost sickening to think about what we could have done if we had played four quarters of football the way we did the last two and a half.
“We’ll regroup, get ready for our Homecoming game this week and try to play the best we possibly can against South Gallia.”
Eastern had as many first downs in the first half (12) as the White Falcons had in the game. EHS finished the night with a total of 18 first downs and was also penalized 11 times for 93 yards, compared to eight flags for 65 yards by the hosts.
The Eagles churned out 256 rushing yards on 41 carries, an average of 6.2 yards per attempt. Brewer led the Green and White with 132 rushing yards on 22 tries, followed by Facemyer with 122 yards on 17 totes.
Facemyer completed 14-of-18 passes to six different receivers for 166 yards, throwing one touchdown and one interception. Martindale hauled in seven passes for 101 yards, while Durst and Blaise Facemyer each caught two passes for 23 and 15 yards respectively.
Wahama managed 174 rushing yards on 46 attempts for an average of 3.8 yards per carry. Wyatt Edwards led the hosts with 89 yards on 21 tries and Brady Bumgarner had 57 yards on eight totes.
Grate completed 3-of-9 passes for 116 yards, which included two touchdowns and two picks. Thomas led the WHS wideouts with two catches for 86 yards and Edwards hauled in one pass for 30 yards.
Eastern has now won two straight decisions against the White Falcons at Bachtel Stadium and improved its overall mark at Wahama’s house to 8-3 since the 1995 campaign. The road team has also won the last four decisions in this head-to-head matchup.
Both teams return to TVC Hocking action Friday as Wahama hosts South Gallia on Homecoming, while Eastern welcomes Trimble to East Shade River Stadium. Both games will kickoff at 7:30 p.m.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.