Oct. 16—Eastern's football team made all the adjustments it needed Friday and came away with a share of the Hoosier Heartland Conference championship after a 14-7 victory over Clinton Prairie.
Eastern finished the regular season 6-1 in the HHC and 7-2 overall. The Comets tied with Sheridan atop the HHC. It's the Comets' third straight title.
"For us to lose 16 seniors [after last season] and go 7-2 in the regular season and clinch a share of the conference title, I'm tickled to death for our kids," Eastern coach Josh Edwards said.
After a scoreless opening quarter, Clinton Prairie struck first with a touchdown in the second quarter, and Eastern drew even with less than a minute left in the half. Austin Roberts punched in a one-yard TD run and the Comets and Gophers went into halftime tied 7-all.
It was a defensive stalemate again in a scoreless third quater, then in the fourth quarter Eastern QB Eli Edwards connected with Josh Fike for a 47-yard TD with 1:52 left for a 14-7 Comet lead. Eastern sealed the game with an interception in the final minute.
"It was an outstanding football game," Josh Edwards said. "I felt like both sides, us and Clinton Prairie, both were very resilient. They just battled back and forth, kind of flip-flopping field position. They punched one in the end zone in the second quarter, we had about three minutes left and drove down the field and scored with less than a minute left.
"[In the second half] our defense makes a huge stand in the fourth quarter and we get the ball back in the fourth and hit two big passes to Josh Fike. [Those plays] set us up past the 50 in Prairie territory. Then we hit a pass of 40-45 yards to Josh Fike for that score. Josh Hewitt had the interception at the end and we were able to kneel it out."
The Comet coach noted again and again how resilient both teams were, and at the end, the Comets in the trenches stepped up.
"Both Prairie and our kids played their hearts out," he said. "Our offensive line stepped up on our last drive, gave Eli a lot of time to throw the football."
Eastern's defense had a strong performance. Prairie averaged 28 points per game heading into the contest.
"Oh man, defense was awesome," Josh Edwards said. "Prairie was able to move the ball a little bit but when they got close to scoring — obviously they punched one in — our kids really stepped up. I felt like our coaches did a great job on defense and our kids did a great job responding to those adjustments. Our defense is what kept us in the ballgame."
With the win, Eastern's seniors snag a record.
"I think the key was the leadership — our seniors really stepped up [Friday]," Josh Edwards said. "They became the winningest class ever at Eastern High School. They moved to 36 wins. I felt that was something they really wanted to accomplish. The leadership of our seniors showed — being resilient and keeping things positive. That's something I've been so happy with our team [about], even when we've struggled, the kids have never wavered in their friendship and unity as a team, and I believe that's why we've been a good team."
Another example of conference friendship allowed the game to be played in better conditions. The game was originally scheduled for Clinton Prairie but after heavy rains this week, Prairie contacted Taylor High School to ask to use Taylor's turf and the HHC rival Titans hosted the game as a neutral venue. The change occurred early Friday afternoon.
"Clinton Prairie's field conditions were in pretty bad shape," Josh Edwards said. "They had quite a bit more substantial rain. Taylor was gracious enough to host us. That was good for the safety of the kids and the quality of the football to move it to Taylor."