The Tartans finished the season with a 10-0 record, were selected as a No. 3 seed and will host a playoff game Saturday — a game East has never won.
A 10-0 record wasn’t a stroll in the park for the Tartans who trailed the Oak Hill Oaks and the Notre Dame Titans before beating the Oaks 27-26 on a last second score and erasing an early double-digit deficit to beat the Titans 32-26. Those two games helped propel East to an SOC I title, which Tartan fans are hoping translates into a postseason celebration.
“Now you look back at the season and you see how we were able to beat Oak Hill and beat Notre Dame. That was two games where we were behind in both of them and the kids responded in a way that I haven’t seen before since I’ve been at East,” Tartans head coach James Gifford said. “It definitely shows that we’re maturing as a program, so that’s what I think makes it different. We’re maturing and heading in the right direction.
“This team is different. We set our personal goals at the beginning of the year and they’ve really just worked hard on achieving everyone of those, and being focused on what we do. The team itself — the coaches, players — we don’t get sidetracked from social media, from rankings and things, we just try to take care of each game as they come with the goals we set.”
East will host the 7-3 Danville Blue Devils Saturday night, which Gifford admitted won’t be an easy task.
“Danville is a very experienced playoff team,” Gifford said. “They are very well coached. They are fundamentally sound. They’re young, a couple seniors, a lot of juniors and a couple of sophomores, which is young compared to what they’re use to because they are predominately use to being a senior team. That’s why they are as good as they are each and every year, but they’re use to being here.”
After watching film, Gifford feels his team has the ability to matchup athletically with Danville. The star for the Blue Devils, who run a spread offense, is quarterback Skyler Durbin.
“He throws the ball very well,” Gifford said. “They’ll lineup four and five wide, two-back sets sometimes. He likes to run a lot. I think he’s more of a smart player that gives him good yards as opposed to a real fast player but he’s fast enough to get it done.”
Gifford acknowledge the Tartans don’t have a great deal of experience playing spread teams but he’s confident in his squad’s preparations.
“They like to spread the ball out and that’s going to be the challenge,” Gifford said. “It’s a type of offense that we really haven’t faced all year. I feel like we’ve done a great job game planning. I feel like our guys are doing a good job comprehending it and knowing what they’re supposed to do. It’s just going to be important for each guy to know their assignment and do their assignment come game time.
“Our guys really have a lot of confidence going into the game. We’re not making any predictions or anything, but we’ll go there, give an outstanding effort and see what happens.”
The only persistent problem East has faced all year has been fumbles and turnovers, but Gifford isn’t completely concerned as his team’s aggressive approach gives them an opportunity to make plays.
“Every week, we work on fumble-prevention drills,” Gifford said. “We talk every week about the personal foul calls. But as the season has went on, I feel like we are known as a very aggressive team this year. That’s got us where we’re at, at 10-0 right now. That’s kind of who we are. Obviously you don’t want penalties and you don’t want fumbles, but I don’t want to take away our identity of who we are, which is a very aggressive team. Sometimes, it gives you a bad reputation going into a game. We’ve got to clean it up but I want us to keep playing hard too.”
There is only one key to the game in Gifford’s mind.
“Our key is to play Tartan football,” Gifford said. “That’s what we’ve concentrated on all year, playing our game, our football — Tartan football — and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.