BUTLER – Eastside has never won a sectional football championship, but even before the season coach Todd Mason had a feeling that this might just be the year.
“I always meet with our seniors before we go to media day, and we talked about goals and expectations of this football season, and I told them that we could make history, but we've got to make it to November in order to do that,” Mason said at practice this week. “Once November hits, anything can happen.”
This November started with a wild sectional semifinal against Bishop Luers in which the Blazers (9-2) overcame a 6-0 halftime deficit with two interceptions, including one that went back for a touchdown, that resulted in a 13-6 win that earned Eastside its first trip to the sectional finals since 2004.
“Our focus is, we can't waste a victory like that and not come away with a sectional title,” Mason said of preparations to play host to Fairfield (6-5) in the final. “We've put a lot of film time in and trying to ease back on the physicality at practice this late in the season. Just trying to get the mental reps and try to get us in a position to win a football game on Friday night.”
The Blazers opened the season 1-2 after losing to Adams Central and West Noble.
“It was a fun, but rough start,” senior lineman Chase Leeper said. “We shouldn't have lost against Adams Central or West Noble, but after that we got our stuff together and really came together as a team. We play together as a team. Our defense has really been good for us all year, and that's what's happened the last couple games, our defense has come in clutch.”
Turnovers were costly in those losses – four of sophomore quarterback Laban Davis' nine interceptions came in those two defeats – as were pre-snap penalties.
“We are starting a ton of sophomores, and I knew it was going to take a little bit of time for them to grow up and catch up to the speed of varsity football,” Mason said. “And our seniors were very patient, waiting for that to happen, and I thank them for that. And so 1-2, although that sounds bad to start the season, but we played two pretty darn good football teams and put ourselves in a position to win.”
Since then, Davis has grown into his role as a dual-threat quarterback, averaging 119 passing yards and 52.6 rushing yards per game. Matthew Firestine is also averaging 58.8 rushing yards.
Meanwhile, the aggressive defense hasn't changed (the Blazers haven't allowed more than 14 points since West Noble scored 38 in Week 3), and neither has the competitiveness the Blazers brought to summer workouts.
“What I love about this 2019 football team is very simply this: they don't care who they're playing,” Mason said. “Doesn't matter if we're playing Bishop Luers, Angola, it doesn't matter, we're not scared of them,” Mason said. “And they are a physical, fast football team that plays the game right. That's what I knew was special about them, is that we played a couple teams this summer, teams that were substantially bigger school sizes than us, and they got after them.
“This time of year, it's a good quality to have.”
That's the attitude a team needs to go further than any of the teams that came before them.
“I think it'd be amazing, since it'd be the first time in Eastside history,” outside linebacker Lane Cleckner said. “It'd be something that in 20 years we could look back and say we were the best team to walk through Eastside.”
(All games 7 p.m.)
Penn at Warsaw
Carroll at Homestead
Northrop at Bishop Dwenger
Leo at East Noble
Concordia at Peru
Fairfield at Eastside
Madison-Grant at South Adams
Adams Central at Northfield