FRANKLIN FURNACE — The East Tartans, too close for comfort to the caboose of the Division VII Region 27 state football playoff rankings, took it upon themselves to move up —and move into —contention for a home game at Allard Park.
Simply put, the Tartans — easily arguably — played their most complete game this season so far on Friday night, blanking and ball controlling the host Green Bobcats by a 16-0 count in a Southern Ohio Conference Division I tilt in The Furnace.
With the win, East improved to 4-5 and 2-2 in the SOC I —as the Tartans recorded a second consecutive shutout, having edged Symmes Valley with a 6-0 week-eight victory, thanks to an Austin Baughman 10-yard touchdown run in the final 10 seconds.
That snapped the Tartans’ five-game losing streak, as the Bobcats (6-3, 1-3 SOC I) —after starting 6-for-6 in the win column —have trended the other way with three losses in a row.
While East can still, actually and unbelievably, forge a four-way tie for the SOC I championship with 3-2 league records —given a win at Notre Dame and combined with a Symmes Valley shocker over Northwest and a Green win at Eastern —the Tartans’ and Bobcats’ best focus is for playoff positioning in Region 27.
Both teams are unofficially already in the playoffs, per the respected rankings website www.joeeitel.com, as Green remains sixth —but the Tartans vaulted from 14th to ninth, or in other words avoided going home in a different manner after week 10.
The top 16 teams in each region qualify for the state playoffs at regular season’s end, while the top eight teams earn opening-round home bouts.
Should East upend archrival and host Notre Dame in the regular-season finale, the Tartans may end up in the top eight —as would Green, given a win at Eastern.
Losses by one or both would land them in the lower half of the 16 seeds.
For Friday night in Franklin Furnace, it was a win the Tartans will certainly take —and one in which they desperately needed.
Per East head coach Adam Bailey, it was his club’s most complete game — on both sides of the ball.
“Our kids came to play, and I’m real pleased with the effort and the way we performed tonight. Hats off to the kids, it’s all about them, and the way they’ve went through this season with all the ups and downs we’ve had. We definitely showed what we are capable of,” said the coach. “We just put all facets of the game together, and for us it’s a great thing. Just very proud of the kids.”
In a tidy two-hour affair for Friday night, the run-oriented units combined for only 10 total pass attempts including eight by two Green quarterbacks—and only six combined passing yards.
But, East needed not throw the football with the way it controlled the line of scrimmage —scoring eight points apiece in each of the middle two quarters, and doing so exactly 13 minutes apart.
The Tartans’ first touchdown was an 11-play, four-first down, 50-yard scoring drive that consumed six minutes and four seconds off the second-stanza clock —and ended when Baughman bootlegged and caught the corner of the end zone from 16 yards out.
Baughman then completed a two-point conversion pass to Landehn Pernell, which made it 8-0 with only a minute and 40 seconds remaining before halftime.
Then, to start the second half, the Bobcats went four plays prior to punting again —as they kicked six times all told —and East engineered a 15-play, five-first down, 71-yard scoring drive that devoured nine minutes and two seconds of the entire third quarter.
Dylan Fitzgerald finished it off with a three-yard run, and Pernell ran in the two-point conversion —making it 16-0 with only 43 seconds remaining in the period.
The Tartans tallied significant statistical advantages — 15-4 in first downs, 56-33 in plays from scrimmage, 54-25 in rushes, 218 to 11 in rushing yardage, and 22o-15 in total yardage.
“That’s what we want to do. Anybody that watches us knows we prefer to run the ball a lot. We had five or six different guys tonight run the ball, run the ball hard, and do things the right way,” said Bailey. “We did a good job of ball control and running the clock, which is what we wanted to do. For us, it was important to keep their offense off the field.”
Having Fitzgerald and Pernell return from injuries also helped, as Fitzgerald finished with game-highs in carries and yards —78 yards on 18 carries.
Baughman (nine carries, 59 yards), Pernell (10 carries, 32 yards) and Cam Justice (11 carries, 48 yards) all toted the rock at least nine times for 32 yards, while Baughman completed one first-half pass to Pernell (two yards).
While most of the Tartan carries were between the tackles, Baughman —three times —got free around the end, for his touchdown rush of 16 yards followed by similar second-half carries of 15 and 17.
“They caught us three times with the quarterback, where we didn’t stay home, because of how much they ran between the tackles. They were able to pick up first downs,” said Green coach Chad Coffman. “They put it on the ground three times, and we only got on one.”
Defensively, the Tartans bottled up the Bobcat backs — to the tune of 11 yards rushing.
While East gained two backs back from injury, two of the Bobcats’ top two-way linemen —Chaise Lavender and Isaiah Runyon —were out injured.
With small schools, numbers and personnel matter — especially for two run-heavy squads.
“From the get-go, I thought our kids were flying around the field and making plays. We had several kids play real well tonight. We’ve been getting better defensively over the last two weeks, we got a little bit healthier, and I think that was an added bonus for us,” said Bailey. “Momentum-wise and for morale, it really lifted us up. We played pretty well throughout the entire game.”
The Tartans did lose a fumble in their own territory in the first quarter, and did punt four times including bookend three-and-out possessions, but they forced the Bobcats into six straight punts to begin the game —following possessions of five plays, three plays, three plays, four plays, four plays and finally six plays.
Green also had five penalties, which went for 40 yards.
One Bobcat drive began in East territory, and only one more did they cross midfield for one play —as a 10-yard holding penalty pushed them back on their own side.
On the next snap, and with the Tartans leading 16-0, Tyell Baker sacked Green quarterback Jon Knapp for a 14-yard loss.
From there, Green only had nine more plays with its final two possessions resulting in turnovers on downs —as Knapp threw four incomplete passes, and the Tartans sacked him twice more for a dozen total yards lost.
The Bobcat QBs combined to go only one of eight for four yards —a Knapp completion to the starting signal-caller Abe McBee.
“This is a rival game, and we felt like East would come in here and play really hard, but they won the line of scrimmage. Those individual battles up front they won them, and we just couldn’t make that play to get off the field,” said Coffman. “And we haven’t had the focus or discipline to sustain drives. They won the line the scrimmage, they were more physical, and at the end of the day, they won the game. We’re going to have to get it figured out.”
Indeed, because, the Bobcats go to Eastern —which knocked league leader Northwest off on Friday night, 23-21.
“It’s not a good feeling right now, but it’s what happened,” said Coffman. “We have to get back to work and get better.”
The Bobcats and Tartans, both locked into playoff spots, are now playing to be home sweet home in week 11.
“Green and Notre Dame are our two biggest rivals. If we can find a way to win at Notre Dame, we probably get a home (playoff) game, so that’s important for us,” said Bailey. “We’re going to put in a good hard week of practice and hopefully, come out ready to play.”
* * *
East 0 8 8 0 —16
Green 0 0 0 0 —0
E— Austin Baughman, 16-yard run (Landehn Pernell pass from Austin Baughman), 1:40, 2nd (8-0 E)
E— Dylan Fitzgerald, 3-yard run (Landehn Pernell run), :43, 3rd (16-0 E)
First downs 15 4
Scrimmage plays 56 33
Rushes-yards 54-218 25-11
Passing yards 2 4
Total yards 220 15
Cmp-Att-Int. 1-2-0 1-8-0
Fumbles-lost 3-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 7-61 5-40
Punts-Ave. 4-26.5 6-35.8
RUSHING — East: Dylan Fitzgerald 18-78 TD, Austin Baughman 9-59 TD, Cam Justice 11-48, Landen Pernell 10-32, Keagan Jackson 4-9, Team 2-(-8); Green: Nathaniel Brannigan 11-29, Landan Lodwick 5-22, Trevor Sparks 3-(-3), Abe McBee 3-(-11), Jon Knapp 3-(-26)
PASSING —East: Austin Baughman 1-2-0-2; Green: Jon Knapp 1-6-0-4, Abe McBee 0-2-0-0
RECEIVING —East: Landehn Pernell 1-2; Green: Abe McBee 1-4