It’s been a while since the East football team has started this hot. Nearly a whole generation of Tartans have graduated since the last time East opened up at 3-0 in 2012.
But this week, East really has a chance to make some history. They’re looking for their first 4-0 start since their magical undefeated regular season in 2007.
“It shows the kids are buying in and believing…They really understand the concept that with great attitude and effort, anything is possible,” first-year East coach James Gifford said. “That’s we’re trying to teach them in terms of life in general.”
But in order to remain perfect on the year, East will have to top a Green squad riding high after their first victory of the season, a 38-18 win over Ahston Hannan (W. Va.).
In that game, the Bobcats controlled time of possession and racked up nearly 400 yards of rushing offense. Senior Wyatt Blevins racked up 115 yards and scored twice. But it was freshman Tyler McClain who stole the show. He ran for a team-high 135 yards and scored three touchdowns in his first game coming off an injury.
It’s performances from young kids like McClain that has Green coach Ted Newsome excited for the future. He currently has seven in the starting lineup, including defensive lineman Wyatt Mollet. He recorded at least four tackles for loss, recorded a sack and snagged an interception for the Bobcats in their win over Hannan.
“He was our player of the game last week on defense,” Newsome said.
Last Friday’s game was also the first under center for junior Alex Hughes. He took over for Darnell, who was moved to fullback to utilize his power and speed as a rusher.
“Alex did a nice job of facilitating things,” Newsome said. “We also passed for 62 yards, which might be a record for me as a coach.”
The big question mark for the Tartans coming in to the 2015 season was an offensive line that lost two of its most talented starters in the offseason: Ohio State recruit Tyler Gerald and tackle Nick Basham. But those questions seemed to have been answered, as the Tartans have totaled nearly 800 rushing yards in their first three games.
“Everyone thought, including myself, the offensive line was the weak link. I challenged them on that and they took it to heart,” Gifford said. “Every week during practice they work extremely hard, and during the game they take it personal.”
The Tartan offensive line is anchored by sophomore Blaine Scott, who has already received college offers from Toledo and Ohio. Scott took an official visit to Michigan State last weekend, and plans on hitting Ohio State (Sept. 19) and Virginia Tech (Oct. 5) in the coming weeks.
“This Scott kid is the real deal. I would really enjoy watching him on film if we weren’t playing him (Friday) night,” Newsome said.
It helps that Scott has great backs behind him. Junior Akia Brown (46 carries for 429 yards, six TDs) is well on his way to a third straight thousand-yard season, and junior Drew Lowe is thriving as the Tartans’ starting quarterback.
“(Lowe) does things right and he’s a great vocal leader. He leads by example,” Gifford said.
Lowe is 24-31 for 339 yards and five touchdowns in East’s last two wins.
What really has sparked East’s turnaround this season is its defense. Through their first three games last season, the Tartans 103 points while limping to a 1-2 start. This season, the East defense has allowed only 69 points in their first three games.
“They’re having fun on defense,” Gifford said. “On defense, you kind of just need to take the thinking out of it for the guys and say…let’s just do this and fly to the football.”
Newsome hopes that his rush-heavy offense can gash that East defense and control the clock, taking the ball out of the hands of East’s playmakers.
“We’re going to try and control the clock and stick to the ground as much as we can,” Newsome said. “If we can control time of possession and defensively get some stops, we can make it a competitive ball game.”
As for Gifford, he’s made sure that his team is completely focused on the opponent at hand and not focused on their huge non-conference game with Valley next week.
“Our guys are concentrating on week four,” Gifford said. “Green is Green. They always play hard. Coach Newsome is a good coach, he has them turn the corner as far as believing in themselves. Every week is a new week for them.
“We know they’d love to beat us, so we’re not taking them lightly.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Allard Park in Sciotoville.
Reach Alex Hider at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter