GREENVILLE — After being in control much of the first half, Eaton’s football team had to withstand a second-half rally by host Greenville, but the Eagles ultimately relied on its senior leadership to pull out a hard fought 32-18 win in the season opener for both teams on Thursday, Aug. 19.
Eaton scored on it first possession of the game, then added two second quarter scores, including an 88-yard touchdown run by senior Aiden Williams with just over a minute remaining in the half to take an 18-3 at the break. Williams finished with 219 yards on 17 carries.
Greenville rallied for 15 unanswered points in the second half to tie the game at 18-all with 9:48 to play in the game before the Eagles added two late scores to secure the win.
“We gave up to many big plays in the second half defensively, so we’re not real happy about that,” Eaton coach Brad Davis said. “But what we will take away is when we had to have a play we made the play. We feel good about that but we just got to tidy some things up there in between.”
Trailing 25-18, Greenville took possession at its own 27-yard line with 4:02 left in the game. The Green Wave, behind the running of Brock Short and the arm of quarterback Hayden Bush, who finished 10-for-20 for 150 yards, mounted a 12-play drive to the Eaton 13-yard line and faced a fourth-and-five with 36 seconds left.
On the 13th play, Eaton senior Josh Martin intercepted a pass at the eight and returned it 92 yards for a touchdown to seal the Wave’s fate with 14 seconds remaining.
“First, that’s what we got to have from our play makers. Play makers got to make plays, that’s what makes great teams,” Davis said.
Eaton began the scoring on its first possession of the game. The Eagles drove 75 yards in six plays, scoring a 2-yard TD pass on fourth-down from junior quarterback Brock Ebright to senior tight end Breyden Boston. The point after try was blocked, leaving the score 6-0.
Ebright threw for three touchdowns, finishing 10-of-16 for 158 yards.
The Wave answered with a eight-play drive, which began at their own 20, that was capped by a 28-yard field goal by Avery Ernst.
Both teams traded punts until the Eagles broke through with a 14-yard TD pass from Ebright to Leslie Orr with 7:11 left in the first half for a 12-3 lead after another missed extra point attempt. Orr hauled in three catches for 29 yards.
Greenville followed with a long drive that reached the Eaton 2-yard line. But on fourth down, the Eagles defense came up with a big play denying the Wave a touchdown.
With 2:45 remaining in the half and pinned deep, Eaton was content on running out the clock, but on the third play Williams broke free and raced 88 yards for a score and an 18-3 lead just before the half.
Momentum seemed to stay in the Eagles favor early in the third as they forced a turnover on the third play of the second half.
The Wave’s defense came up big on the very next play and forced an Eaton fumble.
Greenville drove 88-yards in 11 plays, scoring on a 14-yard TD pass from Bush to Million Bryant with 5:26 left in the quarter, to make it an 18-10 game.
The Wave defense came up big again as it forced an Eaton punt on the next possession.
Eaton’s offense had the ball for just five plays in the third quarter.
Short, who rushed for 207 yards on 27 carries, capped off a 13-play drive with a 2-yard TD run with 9:48 left in the game. A successful two-point conversion tied the game 18-18.
“The response was great. That’s part of our culture is never flinching knowing that adversity is going to show up and it did and we punched the right in the face,” Davis said.
Eaton used a 10-play drive that took over five minutes off the clock to regain the lead. Ebright connected with Martin, who finished with four catches and 96 yards, for a 17-yard TD pass with 4:10 to play setting up the final drive.
“Great way to start, certainly,’ Davis said. “Love the way the offensive line took over the game, the running game in the second half, loved that. Loved the push we would get. I think we wore them down. That’s a testament to how many returning lettermen we have and the strong leadership of our captains in the entire senior class.”
Eaton (1-0) will open its home portion of the schedule when it hosts Springfield Shawnee on Friday, Aug. 28 at 7 p.m.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on Twitter @emowenjr