By BOB ETTINGER
The South Range High School football team prides itself on controlling the game and the clock at the line of scrimmage.
The Raiders (13-1) found out what it feels like on the other end of that philosophy as Pemberville Eastwood ground out Friday’s 21-7 victory in a Division V state semifinal contest at Pat Catan Stadium.
“As a line we always come into every game and say we’re going to impose our will on the other team and be the most physical team out there,” South Range senior offensive lineman Matt Brooks said. “I think today they ran at us, which is unusual for us.
“I think we were kind of shocked at the beginning when they came out,” Brooks said. “We knew they had a great D-line, but the whole night we couldn’t get in a groove and that hurt us a lot.”
Photo Gallery: South Range vs Eastwood
The Eagles (14-0) will play Wheelersburg (14-0) in the state championship game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton next weekend.
Eastwood took what appeared to be a commanding 14-0 lead following a fumble by the Raiders.
Ceyleon Damron took it in from the 2 following a six-play, 29-yard march that lasted just more than three minutes to go up two scores with 1:06 to play in the first quarter.
“That was tough, especially with their style of offense,” South Range head coach Dan Yeagley said. “They’re going to eat the clock up and we’re not going to get many touches and we’ve got to make the most out of all of our touches.
“That was tough,” Yeagley said. “It wasn’t one play, it was a bunch of plays. They’re a great team and we gave it everything we had and hopefully we prepared them for next week.”
In the second half, it was an 18-play, 85-yard march that spanned 9:02 of game time that all but sealed the victory for Eastwood.
The drive started with 8:10 to play in the third and culminated in a 3-yard touchdown run by Jaden Rayford with 11:08 remaining in the contest.
Eagles quarterback Jake Pickerel delivered a 17-yard run on fourth-and-4 from the Raiders 29 to keep the drive alive.
“That’s tough when you’re a good team and can do that,” Yeagley said of the drive. “We tried.
“We gave it everything we had. They’d get one yard, then two yards, then three yards then then they got a first down on fourth down. It was tough. We did what we could.”
South Range answered with quarterback Aniello Buzzacco’s 63-yard scoring strike to Mathias Combs on fourth-and-15 from the Raiders’ 37 to get South Range on the board, 21-7, with 7:26 to play.
“Being honest, I was rushing that,” Buzzacco said. “I had to step up in the pocket. I saw I had a chance. I tried to get it there the best I could and sailed it. Thank God he came up with that catch and made a nice play.”
Rayford scored the Eagles’ first touchdown from two yards out on their opening possession of the game. That drive spanned 4:35 and chewed up 57 yards over 11 plays.
When the dust settled, Eastwood had amassed 212 yards on 58 rushing attempts.
On the flip side, the Raiders tallied just 37 yards on 22 carries and struggled to get anything going between the tackles all night.
“They’re fantastic players,” Yeagley said. “Those two inside guys [Dalton Andrews and Seth Welch] are great players and they gave us fits all night.
“They’re good. They’re aggressive and they do a great job. There were times we blocked them and got some movement, but, again, they’re a fantastic team and they’re very well-coached.”
Rayford netted 167 yards and two scores on 41 carries.
Buzzacco paced the South Range offense with 148 yards on 11-of-23 passing. He threw a pair of interceptions to go with the touchdown pass. Combs finished with 112 yards on seven receptions.