NEWARK — It was a moment 18 years in the making.
When their Division VII, Region 27 quarterfinal contest was over, the Eastern Eagles gathered near the east end zone of Newark’s White Field, sharing hugs and posing for photos with family.
The game itself was almost an afterthought. The No. 7 Eagles (8-3) played well for long stretches but were ultimately undone by big plays and three second-quarter turnovers in a 35-7 loss to No. 2 seed Newark Catholic on Saturday.
The contrast in the two teams’ styles could be summed up in one statistic — Eastern ran 59 plays, and only five of them went for more than 10 yards. The Green Wave (8-3), meanwhile, had a quartet of calls than covered at least 37, including a pair of touchdowns of 47 and 55 yards.
On Derek Hawk’s 47-yard scoring scamper, specifically, at least three Eagle defenders had a bead on him, but each took a Tri-Valley Conference Hocking angle that simply did not account for the senior’s Licking County League speed.
“They were fast at every position,” admitted Eastern head coach Pat Newland. “It left us a little shell-shocked, honestly. We didn’t make many mistakes, but when you play a team like Newark Catholic, they’ll make you pay for every blown coverage and every turnover, and that’s what happened tonight.”
Hawk’s touchdown, added to Matt Carlisle’s post corner fade to Brandon Buchanan, made the score 14-0 in favor of the home team early in the second frame. To that point, the Eagles had come up a yard short on fourth down inside the Green Wave 10-yard line, suffered two three-and-outs but had avoided any turnovers.
When that changed, so did the game.
Eastern’s Conner Ridenour threw a trio of interceptions in quick succession — although, in his defense, the first two weren’t his fault. The first tipped off his target’s hands and settled into the chest of Newark Catholic safety Slater Evans, who returned the pick 19 yards to the Eagle 27.
Later, Ridenour threw to a spot, expecting his receiver to break off his route and curl back, but instead, the only one waiting on the throw was linebacker Chance Brooks, and his 22-yard return set the Green Wave up at the 12-yard line.
Senior Mason Dishong recovered that possession in short order for the Eagles, sacking Carlisle and plucking the ball out of the air when it popped from the quarterback’s hands.
Unfortunately, by then, the damage had already been done, in the form of two more touchdown tosses from Carlisle. The cagey senior had no doubt begun to pick up on the tendency of Eastern’s defenders to read his eyes and to anticipate where his passes were headed. So, on consecutive throws, Carlisle looked off a screen pass into the right flat before straightening up in the pocket and launching the ball further downfield.
The first resulted in an 11-yard score to Evans, running a slant route to the spot vacated by the linebacker. The second fooled the entire Eagle defense, and no one noticed Hawk slipping out of the backfield for an easy 55-yard pitch-and-catch that put Newark Catholic up, 28-0.
Before and after that onslaught, Newland’s team played relatively well. The Eagles rushed for 184 yards, including a pair of 84-yard efforts from juniors Blake Newland and Steve Fitzgerald. The Eagles opened the game with an 11-play, 56-yard drive and later unleashed a 17-play, 80-yard classic that ended with Fitzgerald’s 1-yard plunge early in the fourth.
“When we got into the locker room at halftime, we re-grouped and decided to pound Steve a little more,” Newland said. “But, really, we just told them to come out and to play hard. Remember where you are; honor the playoffs. I thought we fought well the whole game. I’m real proud of the players.
“We only have three seniors on this team,” Newland continued, referring to Dishong, Nick Little and Michael Letson. “Whatever they do in life — and they’ll be great at it — we’ll always start every conversation talking about this game, sharing the same stories. ‘Remember that playoff game when we were seniors? First one in 18 years,’ that sort of thing. Hopefully, we’ve given these young men something to remember and lots to talk about.”
Newark Catholic 35, Eastern 7
Eastern 0 0 0 7 — 7
Newark Catholic 7 21 0 7 — 35
Newark Catholic — Brandon Buchanan 9-yard pass from Matt Carlisle (Ryan Auer kick), 3:12 1st.
Newark Catholic — Derek Hawk 47-yard run (Ryan Auer kick), 9:28 2nd.
Newark Catholic — Slater Evans 11-yard pass from Matt Carlisle (Ryan Auer kick), 6:35 2nd.
Newark Catholic — Derek Hawk 55-yard pass from Matt Carlisle (Ryan Auer kick), 4:01 2nd.
Eastern — Steve Fitzgerald 1-yard run (Mason Dishong kick), 11:24 4th.
Newark Catholic — Matt Carlisle 10-yard run (Ryan Auer kick), 8:00 4th.
First Downs 13 16
Total Plays 59 48
Rushing (plys-yds) 47-184 32-227
Passing yards 35 139
Total yards 219 366
Passes (cmp-att-int) 3-12-3 6-15-1
Fumbles (no-lost) 0-0 0-0
Penalties (no-yds) 3-25 2-30
Punts (no-avg) 3-24.67 1-35.00
Eastern – Blake Newland 23-84, Steve Fitzgerald 21-84 (TD), Conner Ridenour 2-13, Brayden Smith 1-3; Newark Catholic – Derek Hawk 15-106 (TD), Drew Hess 6-68, Matt Carlisle 6-38 (TD), Sam Muetzel 1-8, Tristan Gorius 3-4, Brandon Buchanan 1-3.
Eastern – Conner Ridenour 3-12-3-35; Newark Catholic – Matt Carlisle 6-15-1-139 (3 TD).
Eastern – Mason Dishong 1-21, Blake Newland 2-14; Newark Catholic – Slater Evans 3-61 (TD), Derek Hawk 1-55 (TD), Tanner Elwell 1-14, Brandon Buchanan 1-9 (TD).