Two SOC I schools are at center stage of a decisive conference game on Friday night.
The Eastern Eagles (3-3, 2-1) make the trip to Sciotoville to face off with the East Tartans (5-1, 2-0) in what expects to be a big game for both teams.
For Eastern, this game offers the potential at a signature program win, which is something that has caught the attention of the East coaching staff.
“To get over that hump of being a new program, they’re going to have to beat a team that they’re not supposed to beat,” Tartans head coach James Gifford said. “Every week, they’re fighting to get that one win, and they’re athletic enough to do it, and they’re fast enough to do it.”
Gifford has respect for the opposing coaching staff, saying that the Eagles will come ready to play.
“Coach Tomlison’s got them believing in themselves, and we just hope that doesn’t happen against us,” Gifford said.
A meeting with Oak Hill (4-2, 2-0) looms on the horizon next week for East, but the Tartans aren’t trying to look too far ahead.
“This team is a very smart team,” Gifford said. “I don’t think they overlook anyone, I don’t care who we’re playing … I haven’t heard one person this week, not one time, say one word about Oak Hill.”
The focus is locked in on this week’s opponent, and East is making sure to take things one game at a time. Gifford says the leadership and experience of this time has shined bright this week to keep everyone’s attention on the game against the Eagles.
“It’s a compliment to the players being veterans and the seniors being good leaders, making sure everyone stays focused on Eastern,” Gifford said. “Ultimately they know if we don’t take care of Eastern, Oak Hill game is not nearly the game that everyone is building it up to be.”
East has been paying attention to the details since their week two loss against Danville, and the statistics show it.
Since the Tartans fell to the Blue Devils 42-6 on Sept. 1, East has averaged 51 points per game. The Tartans have also allowed only nine points per game defensively.
While those performances have been impressive, they create some challenges for coach Gifford and his team.
“It concerns me that basically since Danville, you only get a half of football in because the second half is always a running clock or we’re playing our JV most of the half,” Gifford said. “I think this is a game we’re going to have to play four quarters of football.”
The Eagles enter the contest anticipating a rough affair. Eastern head coach Scott Tomlison knows that East will approach things with a very physical mentality.
“I know it’s going to be a physical game,” Tomlison said. “They’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of varsity experience, so we’re trying to tighten things up.”
One of the things that Tomlison has had his team brush up on in practice this week is their ball security.
“Against Symmes Valley we had four turnovers and that cost us … The theme of the week is to clean up the turnovers,” Tomlison said.
The Tartans have forced 12 turnovers on the season, averaging two per game. East kept the trend going last week in their 63-7 win, forcing two turnovers, one of which was a 56 yard interception returned for a touchdown by senior J.D. Hatcher.
Where East was really able to make their presence felt, though, was on the line of scrimmage. The Tartans recorded 10 sacks, with sophomore Braidan Haney notching three.
Without a doubt, this is an issue for the Eagles, who have been working to try and figure out a solution for what could be a struggle up front.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out this week is the way to combat the size difference,” Tomlison said. “Our starting offensive tackles are about 155 [pounds] apiece.”
Fortunately for Eastern, they do have a big body on the offensive line who is able to anchor the offense for the Eagles. Senior Dalton Tomlison, who like Blaine Scott of East has garnered a lot of D-I attention, will be huge for the success of Eastern.
The Eagles know that holding the Tartans in check will be a tall order.
“They’re going to get their plays,” Tomlison said. “They’ve got too many athletes, they’ve got a good sized line. Basically, what we’ll have to try to do is maybe some ball control on offense and keep their offense off the field.”
While Eastern will try and scheme up a strategy to get the victory, East hopes to keep doing what they do on the field.
“I think as long as we play really aggressive, fly to the ball, gang tackle, and just everyone do their assignment, I think we’ll be alright,” Gifford said.
The game will kick off Friday night at 7 pm at the “Original Tartan Turf” in Sciotoville.
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 or on Twitter @BSpicerPDT