FRANKLIN — When the game was on the line Eaton made the plays that mattered most.
The Eagles scored with just over a minute remaining to upset No. 3 seed Franklin Bishop Fenwick a 31-28 in the first round of the Division IV, Region 16 football playoffs Friday, Oct. 28 at Fenwick.
The Eagles took advantage of few Falcon miscues in the first half to build leads of 14-0 and 17-7.
Eaton then had to survive a rocky second half as the Falcons came back to take leads of 21-17 and 28-24 late.
“Unbelievable. Ups and downs. What a great game. Really talented team over there. So happy for our guys. Showed some fight there at the end. I Couldn’t be prouder,” Eaton coach Brad Davis said. “The start of the game we’re so fortunate to force that turnover there on the opening kick and punch that in and the block punt later in the game. We knew it was going to be a fight. That’s a really good football team over there. They got so many weapons.”
Fenwick fumbled the opening kickoff and the Eagles took advantage a few minutes later as Chris Atkins tossed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Brock Ebright to put Eaton on top 7-0 with 9:58 left.
On the Eagles second possession they went 74-yards in nearly five minutes and scored on a 3-yard TD pass from Ebright to Ian Ruebush with 2:59 left.
The Falcons got on the board just over midway through the second quarter to make it a 14-7 game.
That’s how the first half looked to end, but freshman Brycen Simpson came up with huge play with just over a minute left in the half.
Simpson rushed in from the left side and blocked a Falcon punt setting Eaton up deep inside Fenwick territory with 1:11 left in the half.
The drive resulted in a 33-yard Drew Michael field goal and a 17-7 lead.
“We thought we had a chance (to block the kick),” Davis said. “We had to move some guys around, we’re kind of playing shell game with our personnel but he’s pretty quick with the first couple steps there and we thought with a couple of our returns, we did have a free rush on that side. So, we just kind of cut him loose. That was his job. Make sure he punts it and lay out if you think you can get it. A huge play for a freshman and a playoff game. Just unbelievable.”
That momentum didn’t carry over into the third quarter though as the Falcons score on three of their first four possessions, while Eaton punted the ball away on its first three drives.
“We got off to a slow start coming out of halftime offensively. And then of course we let a couple explosives and they had all the momentum,” Davis said. “Fortunately, we were able to make just enough plays there and give ourselves an opportunity to win.”
Fenwick took a 21-17 lead with 36 seconds left in the third quarter.
Eaton responded with a Danny Caldwell 1-yard touchdown with 9:04 left in the game.
“Just gutty,” Davis said of Caldwell’s performance. “At times I’m not sure we were blocking for him very well and he was still finding a way to make a guy miss and turn negative plays into something there. So just a gritty gutty performance by him.”
The Falcons answered the challenge and drove 73 yards for the go-ahead score with 4:53 to play.
Eaton got the ball back on its own 20 and need a touchdown to win.
“We wanted it to be a three minute and 50 second drive. I did not want them to have the ball there at the end,” Davis said.
Ebright capped the 80-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:13 left in the game.
The drive was a mix of runs and passes and Davis gave credit to the offensive line and Ebright.
“They did what they needed to do when we needed it done,” Davis said of the line. “Brock Ebright did a tremendous job. That’s what a senior quarterback looks like in a playoff game. Again, gritty getting performance by him.”
Davis was still concerned when Fenwick got the ball back.
“I still thought they were running veer, quarterback trap. We were fortunate that they chose to put the ball in the air,” he said. “Great coverage by some sophomores in the defensive secondary. That was huge for us for those guys to come and fill that void at that moment to win the game.”
Conner Bach came away with the game clinching interception after Gavin Winings tipped the ball with 41 seconds left.
For Eaton, it was almost like playing in the second round already. The Eagles had to win in Week 10 just to make the playoffs.
“That was the message this week is we’ve been there, we’ve done it. We’ve already played that win and move on, survive and advance, if you will,” Davis said. “So we’ve already done that. We weren’t scared of this week in terms of what could happen, because we’d been there and done that already.”
Eaton (7-4) was the only 14 seed to win state-wide in the first round.
The Eagles will now travel to No. 6 seed Cincinnati Archbishop McNicholas for a regional quarterfinal game on Friday, Nov. 4.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 and follow on Twitter @emowenjr.