With their much-anticipated rematch with Genoa a success and now a week behind them, it would be easy for the Eastwood Eagles to have a bit of an emotional drop in tomorrow night's Division IV regional football playoff final against Marion Pleasant at Donnell Stadium in Findlay.
But veteran Eastwood coach Jerry Rutherford is pretty sure that won't be the case, and that's because of another motivating factor. The Eagles (11-1) are having so much fun playing football they don't want their season to end.
"They were excited to get another week of practice," Rutherford said of his team. "We wrapped up the Genoa game looking at film, and they're ready to get going again."
Eastwood had been eager for a rematch ever since its 21-14 loss at Genoa on Oct. 5, a defeat that cost the Eagles their sixth straight Suburban Lakes League championship. So, getting another crack at the Comets in the second round of the Region 14 playoffs was seen as an opportunity for redemption.
Last Saturday's 14-7 win over Genoa at Lake propelled Eastwood deeper into the playoffs than it has ever been.
But advancing to the D-IV state semifinals will be no easy task against one of Ohio's stingiest defenses in any division, and against a school with one of the state's better playoff resumes.
Pleasant is in the postseason for the 17th time, compared to four appearances for Eastwood, and the eighth-ranked Spartans (11-1) have three state championships to their credit (1972, 1996, 2002). Pleasant was also state runner-up in 2001.
"Everybody I've talked to about them says the same thing," Rutherford said of Pleasant, "that they're a very disciplined team. They're going to run the ball and they can also throw it. If you don't read your keys, they're going to get a guy open off play-action and beat you.
"They're very solid on defense and they really run to the football. They've played everybody tough, and they've hardly given up any points all year."
The champions of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference, the Spartans have outscored their 12 foes 509-61 this season, an average of 42-5 per game.
Fifteen of Pleasant's 17 playoff appearances have been made under head coach Chris Kubbs, whose team is playing up in Division IV for the first time after several years in D-V. Along with that enrollment leap, Kubbs sees another disadvantage for his Spartans - geography. The central Ohio school, about 30 miles north of Columbus, is more familiar, from a scouting standpoint, with playing teams from that region.
"They're a very solid ballclub," Kubbs said of Eastwood. "They diversify their attack inside, and the quarterback is capable of throwing. They have real good balance within their offense.
"In these playoff games, turnovers and field position are always key factors, and so are establishing a rhythm in your offense and maintaining momentum. These games can turn on a heartbeat."
Pleasant is paced offensively by a trio of juniors - quarterback Cody Harris, running back Jake Lawrence and receiver Kyle Beck, although the ground game has basically been by committee. The 6-0, 190-pound Lawrence is better known for his defensive play at linebacker, where he earned central district defensive player of the year honors.
Eastwood's ground-oriented offensive attack is centered around northwest district co-offensive player of the year Jeremy Foster, a workhorse 5-11, 194-pound running back who has carried 379 times for 2,152 yards and scored 34 touchdowns.
Senior QB Eric Rutherford (39-of-77 passing, 764 yards, eight TDs) mixes in about six or seven passes a game to keep the defense honest, and senior linemen Matt Nicely and Corey Bettenbrock anchor the blocking scheme.
Senior linebacker Chad Fairbanks (119 tackles) and 6-6, 225-pound defensive end Clay Rolf (10 tackles for loss, seven sacks) key the first two levels of the defense, while Rutherford is a fixture in the secondary. The Eagles have outscored foes 383-136.
Like most games, coach Rutherford sees this one boiling down to the battle at the line of scrimmage. The greatest challenge will be finding some opening in the Spartan defense
"We're going to go with what we've been doing all year," Rutherford said. "We don't change a whole lot. We'll run our plays and see what happens. If you believe in what you're doing and you're sound fundamentally and you execute, every offense can work for somebody.
"Our kids believe in what we're doing offensively, and we have some pretty good athletes to run it."
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