TUPPERS PLAINS, Ohio — The Wildcats had a minute to win it, but didn’t even need the entire time.
The Eastern football team took a one-point lead with just 1:12 left in Friday night’s Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division bout at East Shade River Stadium in Meigs County. However, visiting Waterford regained the edge 39 seconds later and escaped with the 24-19 victory.
Defense dominated the early going, with Eastern (2-2, 0-2 TVC Hocking) going three-and-out, regaining possession on downs, and then punting again. On the Eagles’ second punt, Waterford (3-1, 2-0) junior Cole Miller blocked the kick, recovered the ball and ran 20 yards for the touchdown. The Wildcats were 0-for-4 on two-point conversion attempts in the game, and led 6-0 with 5:06 left in the opening stanza.
The Eagles were intercepted on their next drive, but got the ball back after a three-and-out. Eastern’s offense went 43 yards in eight plays, and scored on a one-yard Steve Fitzgerald run 1:04 into the second period. Mason Dishong made the point-after kick, giving the hosts a 7-6 lead.
After a punt by each side, Waterford got the better of the field position battle and set up shop with the Eagle 32. On the second play of the drive, WHS sophomore Holden Dailey ran 25 yards for the touchdown, giving the guests a 12-7 edge with 5:32 left in the half.
Eastern made it as far as the WHS 27 in six plays on the ensuing drive, but a pair of sacks and a penalty backed the Eagles up to midfield, where they were forced to punt with 55 seconds until halftime.
After carries of 18 yards and 15 yards, Waterford went up 18-7 as time expired in the half, with Nick Fouss catching a 47-yard touchdown pass from Zane Heiss.
Defense was in charge again at the start of the second half, with the first three drives resulting in punts, two by Waterford and one by Eastern.
The hosts cut their deficit to 18-13 on their second possession of the second half, going 55 yards on 13 consecutive running plays, with Fitzgerald finding the end zone from three yards out at the 9:12 mark of the fourth quarter.
Waterford was forced to punt after four plays on its next drive, but pinned the Eagles back on their own 10 with 6:14 left in regulation. Eastern covered the 90 yards in 13 plays and 5:02, with a fourth-down pass from Conner Ridenour to Brayden Smith keeping the drive alive near midfield. Blake Newland delivered the scoring run from 20 yards out, giving EHS a 19-18 lead with 1:12 remaining.
Starting on their own 14-yard line after a penalty, the Wildcats got 19 yards on a pass from Heiss to Fouss on their first play from scrimmage. Following an incomplete pass, Heiss hooked up with Fouss again, and this time the junior wasn’t stopped, going 67 yards for the touchdown with 33 seconds left.
Eastern made it to the Wildcat 43 with five seconds left, but had its last-chance pass intercepted by Fouss.
Following the 24-19 setback, sixth-year EHS head coach Pat Newland talked about Waterford’s game-winning play, and commended his team for fighting back after the early deficit.
“We just have to work on not getting lost with guys,” Coach Newland said. “I don’t know, I’ll have to look at it on tape, but somebody got lost somewhere.
“I was very proud of the way we came out in the second half, the kids, they fought hard. We came back, we were down two touchdowns and they could have very easily given up, but they came out and fought hard. I’m very proud of them, it just didn’t come out our way.”
Eastern held a slim 265-to-264 advantage in total offense, including 235-to-98 on the grounds. The Eagles had a 16-to-10 edge in first downs and were penalized eight times for 55 yards, while WHS was flagged nine times and sent back 60 yards.
Blake Newland led the Eagle rushing attack with 158 yards and a touchdown on 33 attempts. Fitzgerald was next with 91 yards and two touchdowns on 16 totes.
Ridenour completed 3-of-10 passes for 30 yards in the contest. Smith had one catch for 11 yards and one carry for six, Dishong added one grab for 11 yards, while Jace Bullington caught one pass for eight yards.
For Waterford, Heiss completed 7-of-18 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns, while gaining a net of eight yards on six rushing tries. Fouss finished with 139 yards and two touchdowns on four receptions, while Jude Huffman caught two passes for a total of 22 yards.
Dailey carried the ball seven times for 56 yards and a touchdown, Joe Pantelidis had six carries for 34 yards and one reception for five, while Jacob Huffman had one carry for one yard.
Next, the Eagles will visit South Gallia.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.