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PUSKAS: Eastwood made its day in the trenches

STRONGSVILLE

Forget John Elway and the Denver Broncos.

Forget Marty Schottenheimer’s prevent defense.

Forget “The Drive” as you once knew it.

Pemberville Eastwood’s version — uploaded in just a little more than nine memorable minutes Friday night at Pat Catan Stadium — overwrote the version in the heads of anyone in attendance old enough to remember what Elway once did to the Cleveland Browns.

And for the South Range fans, players and coaches fortunate enough not to have been around on Jan. 11, 1987?

Trust me — the Eagles’ version was bad enough and perhaps even worse.

Eastwood’s 18-play, 85-yard touchdown drive which began early in the third quarter and consumed nine minutes and two seconds, didn’t exactly end the Division V state semifinal.

But it removed any doubts about which unbeaten juggernaut of a team was imposing its will on the other, and unfortunately for South Range, which team would end up with reservations for the state championship in Canton next week.

Although a surprising fourth-down pass play was the instantaneous dagger in the game’s final moments, The Drive was really where the Eagles really put away the Raiders in a 21-7 victory.

“As an offensive line, we go into every game trying to impose our will on the other team,” South Range right guard Matt Brooks said. “They did it to us this time.”

The signs were there from the start, when the Raiders began the game with something uncommon — at least for them — a three-and-out on offense. There was a bit of foreshadowing there, as the Eagles closed the inside running lanes that Brooks and fellow South Range linemen helped running back Peyton Remish and quarterback Aniello Buzzacco exploit with ease all season.

Those lanes were closed the first time the Raiders got the ball and they never really opened all night, as South Range gained a season-low 37 rushing yards on 23 attempts.

“They outplayed us,” Remish said. “That’s what it comes down to, really. Their defensive line did a great job. That’s the best defense we played [against] all year.”

Remish led the Raiders with just 21 yards on 13 carries.

“They came out with a great game plan to take away the run,” said Buzzacco, who was 11 of 23 for 148 yards and two interceptions as Eastwood forced South Range to into increasingly desperate passing situations as the night progressed.

“They really spied me and Remish. They knew what we liked to do and the reads we usually make.”

After the three-and-out, the Eagles then offered an advance look at what the night held with an impressive 57-yard touchdown drive — all on the ground — with Mr. Inside (fullback Jaden Rayford) and Mr. Outside (Ceyleon Damron) doing all the damage.

Rayford capped the march with a 2-yard touchdown and after Buzzacco lost a fumble on an ill-fated keeper a couple minutes later, the Eagles were back in business at the Raiders’ 29.

Another march, albeit half the distance as the first, and this time Damron finished from the 2 for a 14-0 lead with 1:06 to play in the first quarter.

South Range’s defense stiffened then and the Raiders began moving the ball via the pass with Buzzacco finding Mathias Combs several times.

But the Raiders — rendered one-dimensional for the first time all season — couldn’t finish several drives in Eagles territory.

“We have to be able to run the ball,” South Range head coach Dan Yeagley said. “We tried, but they’re a good defense. We knew we were going to have to play a perfect game and we didn’t. There were some mistakes and they seemed to read their keys very well.”

The Raiders (13-1) moved the ball between the 30s, but aside from Buzzacco’s 63-yard strike to Combs for a fourth-quarter touchdown, the Eagles (14-0) didn’t bend on defense.

And eventually, their relentless wing-t wore down the South Range defense. You could see it happen on The Drive, which began at the Eagles’ 15 after the Raiders turned the ball over on downs.

Brooks and Buzzacco could see it happening.

Remish — who seemed to be in on every tackle — could see it happening.

So could Yeagley, but the Raiders’ defense couldn’t stop it and get off the field.

Nine minutes and change later, the game was all but over.

“We tried ... we did our best,” Yeagley said. “We’ve seen some good running backs and good offensive lines this season. They had both.”

The Buzzacco-to-Combs TD revised South Range’s hopes briefly, as did a muffed Eastwood punt that gave the Raiders’ another opportunity. But ultimately, the Eagles controlled the trenches and imposed their will.

Credit, Brooks said, to Eagles nose guard Dalton Andrews and defensive tackle Seth Welch.

“Their defensive line was great,” Brooks said. “Their two inside guys were strong, quick and powerful. They really blew up the backfield.”

But The Drive was where it ended for South Range. Even so, Brooks was still as upbeat as ever as he lingered on the field.

“Great game, great team and a heck of season,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for anything more for your senior season.”

Write Vindicator Sports Editor Ed Puskas at epuskas@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @EdPuskas@vindy.com.



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