ATHENS — Sometimes, it is your day. And sometimes, it just isn’t.
In a Division VII, Region 27 Semifinal on Friday night at Athens High School, the East Tartans’ football program played for 48 minutes against a tough Hannibal River football squad. Unfortunately, the Pilots proved to be the better of the two squads on Friday evening as East (9-3) fell by a 59-8 tally to see its 2017 season come to a close.
For James Gifford, however, there was little to be disappointed about — especially from a group that put so much heart into a 2017 campaign that included the program’s first playoff victory in school history.
“I’m proud of the guys,” Gifford said. “River is a heck of a ball club. They kicked our butt, but I still think if we would have established a ball control offense that would’ve keep theirs off of the field, we would have had a better chance. They are a good ball club, and they earned this victory without question. However, I wouldn’t trade our team for anybody in the world.”
From the outset, East, who won the toss but elected to defer to the second half, had a difficult time stopping the River offense as Lukas Isaly completed an early touchdown pass to Peyton Vancamp to put River up by a 7-0 tally just 1:11 into the contest.
Then, after an interception, Isaly closed out the short 25-yard drive with a one-yard quarterback keeper that put East behind, 13-0, with 6:39 to play in the same quarter. Two additional punts that led to River touchdowns led to a 26-0 deficit for East after the opening quarter of action, as Isaly, who collected 264 yards of total offense and three touchdowns, provided problems for the Tartans all evening long.
At the beginning of the second quarter, the Tartans had the ball and attempted to run the ball several times, but unfortunately weren’t able to get any yardage. At this point, the frustration of not being able to get anywhere was starting to affect the Tartans. Over East’s next several possessions, the Tartans gave the ball back to the Pilots numerous times due to incomplete passes, fumbles and turnovers on downs.
Two key players in last week’s game against Waterford, Brady Douthat and Ethan Carver, had a hard time this week. Douthat seemed to be unable to connect with any of his receivers, while Carver just couldn’t get any yardage by getting the ball up the field, which unfortunately led to the halftime score being 52-0 in favor of Hannibal River.
Still, East managed to obtain some positives in the second half.
After another River touchdown that pushed the Pilots’ lead to a 59-0 margin through three quarters of play, Kyle Flannery, who led East with a team-high 53 rushing yards, took a handoff and busted loose for a 30-yard touchdown run with four minutes left in the fourth quarter. Ethan Gifford capped off the scoring with a successful two-point conversion rushing attempt that allow the Tartans to finish the season on a high note.
Even though the ride ended too soon, as it always does, East’s senior class finished the 2017 campaign with a banner year that will forever be remembered by not only the diehard East fans, but even the casual fans. In all, nine seniors (Carver, Douthat, Blaine Scott, Devon Stevens, Ethan Gifford, Hunter Collins, JD Hatcher, Justin Kritzwiser, and Sam King) depart a unit that took home East’s first ever playoff victory. Each of the seniors led East to a 25-9 record over the past three years.
“The seniors are a great group,” Gifford said. “I expect them to be good men in our community doing big things, being goodhusbands, fathers, and just good community members. They are just a special group of young men.” The seniors Brady Douthat, Ethan Carver, Devon Stevens, JD Hatcher, Justin Kritawiser, Sam King, Blaine Scott, Ethan Gifford, and Hunter Collins should be proud of themselves for a great season to end their high school career.