MONROE — Eaton High School’s football team was able to check off a lot of goals it had set at the beginning the season.
The Eagles won the Southwestern Buckeye League West Division (first league title since 2011), qualified for the state playoffs for just the second time in the past decade, won two home playoff games to remain unbeaten in home playoff games in program history and finished as the sixth-ranked team in the final AP state poll.
But a few more of those goals will stay just out of the grasp of the Eagles.
After holding a 14-7 halftime lead over Cincinnati Archbishop McNicholas in a Division IV, Region 16 semifinal match up at Monroe’s Hornet Stadium on Friday, Nov. 12, adversity finally caught up to the Eagles.
The Rockets outscored Eaton 26-0 in the second half to claim a 33-14 win, ending the Eagles’ season.
”It was a great season. That’s what we told them. Again, it wasn’t our night,” Eaton coach Brad Davis said. “But you know, very quickly we’re going to reflect back on this season and where these guys have come from being 1-9 their freshman year to where they are now — league champs and back in the playoffs. So there’s going to be plenty to be proud of. As we told them, it’s just such a finality with this sport more so than any other sport, specifically for the seniors. So it’s gonna hurt for a while but you know, we’ll get smiles on the faces shortly.”
Eaton was making its ninth postseason appearance. Six of those have ended at the hands of teams from the Greater Catholic League.
Eaton caught the first break of the game when senior linebacker Ashton Geoit forced a McNicholas fumble and senior Josh Martin returned the ball to the Rockets’ 10-yard line. Two plays later, quarterback Brock Ebright connected with senior Christian Reyna for an 11-yard touchdown to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead with 7:01 left in the first quarter.
The Rockets responded with an 80-yard drive to tie the game on an 8-yard touchdown pass with 2:20 left in the opening quarter.
On the Eagles’ next possession, they drove 55 yards on 11 plays to regain the lead as Chris Atkins scored on a 10-yard run on a 4th-and-3 play with 8:04 left in the second quarter.
During the drive, Geoit, who also plays fullback, suffered an injury and did not return to the game.
Eaton drove to the McNicholas 19-yard line late in the quarter but turned the ball over on downs.
In the second half the Rockets took control with their running game.
They drove 80-yards in nine plays — eight of them rushes — to tie the game at 14-14 on a 5-yard touchdown run with 7:17 left in the third quarter.
Eaton then went three and out and was forced to punt on its first possession of the second half.
McNicholas then went on a 10-play, 62-yard drive which took five minutes off the clock to take its first lead of the game on a 3-yard touchdown run with 35 seconds left in the quarter.
On the first play of the first quarter (only its fifth offensive play of the half,) Eaton threw an interception.
The Rockets scored six plays later for a 27-14 lead with 8:51 to play.
Eaton fumbled the ball away on its next possession, setting up the Rockets’ final score of the game with 2:42 left.
“(They) looked pretty good at times. Just just couldn’t get it done in the second half,” Davis said.
He said the loss of Geoit in the middle of the defense along with other injuries over the past few weeks took its toll.
“Anytime you lose a four-year starter, senior captain, then you’ve got to rely on a freshman and sophomore playing in a regional semifinal against a pretty good team, its tough sledding. You know, it’s next man up and they were better than us tonight,” he said. “Injuries are part of the game. We stayed relatively healthy all season. Unfortunately just kind of got piled up here in the postseason. But, hats off to McNicholas at the same time. That’s a good team. They had some weapons. We’ve got to do a better job at times. But you know, it was a tough one tonight. “
Davis said his team has grown and it might be the best to ever wear the Purple and Gold, matching the 2010 team that reached the regional final and went 11-1, losing only to McNicholas.
“Hands down,” he said. “Maybe even tied for the best. That’s a great group. When we’re healthy we can play with just about anybody.”
The senior class began its high school career on a team which was 1-9 and ended with an 11-2 record.
”Knowing that group of guys, it’s going to take some time for them to get over it because we had we had big goals,” Davis said. “We checked off a lot of those goals along the way, but you know, it’s going to hurt. But, we’re proud of them. They’ll be proud of themselves here in a few weeks.”
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on Twitter @emowenjr