The Press Newspaper
A 41-7 loss to Genoa midway through this season forced Eastwood to adjust its ultimate goal.
The Eagles fell to 3-2 with the loss to the Comets, but all was not lost, according to Eastwood coach Jerry Rutherford.
“Our goal was to win the league,” he said. “We were 3-1 going into that game and had beaten Patrick Henry and lost to Clyde. Going over there and getting beat 41-7, we all knew Genoa was not going to lose. Our goal was no longer to win a league championship, but to get ourselves in the playoffs.
“We said, ‘We win our last five games and go 8-2, we’ll be in the playoffs and have a chance to play at home.’ That’s been our goal from that point on.”
The Eagles did finish 8-2 and earned the No. 4 seed in Division V, Region 16, which gave them a home game for the first round of the playoffs. Their reward was a meeting with fifth-seeded Coldwater (8-2) on Saturday night.
The Cavaliers, who went 15-0 to win the state title last year, own the state’s longest active streak of qualifying for the playoffs, at 18 straight years. Coldwater’s only losses are to top-ranked Kenton and Marion Local, who both finished 10-0. Last year, only five No. 5 seeds defeated a No. 4 seed in the first round of the postseason.
“If you really think you have a legitimate shot to win the region, you’re probably going to have to play (Coldwater) sometime,” Rutherford said. “It’s better to play them at home. They’re coming to a place they’ve never been. They’ve done that many times, so it’s not a big issue for them, but it’s something. Our feeling is, if you really think you’re going to have a shot, which our kids believe, then you’re going to have to play them sometime. We’ve never backed down from anybody.”
This is Eastwood’s eighth trip to the playoffs, where it is 6-7 all-time. The Eagles are relying on their strong preseason and early-season schedules to help them prepare for Coldwater.
“It helps playing in tough games,” Rutherford said. “We constantly talk about scrimmaging Lima Central Catholic and Anthony Wayne and playing Patrick Henry and Clyde and Oak Harbor. We tell our guys, if that’s to mean anything, we have to beat the teams that don’t play the caliber of schedule and non-league schedule that we do. Every week we have something to prove.”
Rutherford said one key to reaching the postseason was beating Oak Harbor, which the Eagles did by a 56-7 margin. Eastwood then dived into its Northern Buckeye Conference schedule and crushed Woodmore 40-12, lost to Genoa and then blanked unbeaten Lake 21-0.
“Those were all tough games,” Rutherford said. “We go to Elmwood (a 65-15 win), which is a huge rivalry, and even though they were down this year, you don’t know. It’s still a big rivalry for them. We come back home in Week 8, and Rossford is 5-2 and this is our last home game. Maybe our last home game ever. We were 5-2 and beat them 64-17. There was a point in there where, offensively, we really started clicking.”
The Eagles’ defense, meanwhile, allowed just 45 points over its last five games. Yes, the level of competition got a little softer, but Eastwood still took care of business. One of the defensive standouts has been 6-foot, 162-pound junior inside linebacker Grant Geiser, a second-team All-NBC pick last season.
“He’s really done a great job for us,” Rutherford said.
Geiser has 139 tackles this season, including 15 for loss, with four sacks, two caused fumbles and one fumble recovery. He led the team with 89 tackles a year ago.
“Our guys up front do a great job of getting on the blockers, so he can find a gap,” Rutherford said. “His key is, he’s so fast. When we talk about Devin Snowden and Brennan Seifert, he runs with those guys in the (track) relays. He’s a legitimately fast guy and he’s extremely intelligent. He hears something once and he knows it. He’s a tough kid.”
The Eagles’ defensive line consists of junior tackles Caleb Tussing and Lucas Friess, and senior ends Jacob Ray and Michael Glaze, who has 15 tackles for loss and a team-high seven sacks.
“That was a question mark going into the season,” Rutherford said. “They continue to get better. They went up against some good teams early. Patrick Henry had a big line, Clyde was big and Genoa is really big. They got thrown right in there and responded. The important thing is they kept getting better.”