If Eastwood hopes to continue winning playoff games, chances are
|Eastwood running back Pernell Connor takes the
handoff from quarterback Clayton Ruch during
Eastwood’s 35-6 rout over previously undefeated
Galion. (Press photo by Lee Welch/www.familyphotogroup.com)
the Eagles' three-headed monster will lead the way.
Call them the Three Musketeers, the Three Amigos or whatever you want, but Eastwood's backfield trio of senior Cody Seifert and juniors Pernell Conner and Tony Tijerina are giving defenses fits running out of the Eagles' wing-T offense.
"We've really developed our identity now with the wing-T, and it's evolved," coach Jerry Rutherford said. "An offense is always evolving into different things. It just took some time to find the right combination. Hopefully, that's what we've done right now. They all complement each other and they block for each other. It's a good combination right now."
Rutherford, whose team crushed unbeaten Galion 35-6 last Saturday in the Division IV playoff opener, will look for his running game to keep grinding out yards when the Eagles (9-2) face Ottawa-Glandorf (9-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Donnell Stadium in Findlay.
The fifth-seeded Titans, members of the Western Buckeye League, won at fourth-seeded Wooster Triway (8-3) by a 28-14 margin last Saturday. The Eastwood-Ottawa-Glandorf winner faces either Genoa or Orrville in the regional finals. Genoa beat Eastwood 54-11 on Oct. 2.
Seifert, who plays left halfback and left wingback, is one of the fastest players in the Suburban Lakes League. He rushed 16 times for 104 yards and two TDs in the win over Galion, and now has 1,045 yards and 16 touchdowns on 137 carries this season.
Conner (5-10, 215), who plays fullback, has come on strong over the second half of the season and has rushed 186 times for 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns. He ran for 158 yards and one score in the win over Galion.
Seifert and Conner are the first backs to each rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season in Rutherford's 28 years as Eastwood's head coach.
"I figured Cody could be a 1,000-yard rusher," Rutherford said. "Early on, Pernell was getting his carries but Cody was getting a lot of yards. Pernell has really come on after the Lake game. We started using him more at fullback and using a right halfback and a left halfback. We didn't play real well against Patrick Henry (a 35-0 loss), but after that Lake game we played Elmwood and Gibsonburg and Galion and things are really clicking right now.
"It took us quite a while to figure out what's best for this group. We had different guys out at different times, including our quarterbacks. Fortunately, we were winning enough games to get us in the playoffs."
Rutherford said Conner and Seifert pose different threats for opponents.
"Pernell pounds it in there pretty good," the coach said. "He runs the trap and the belly, basically. Cody is getting his yards on the outside on sweeps and counters."
Tijerina (5-11, 182), who plays right halfback, nearly gave Eastwood a third 100-yard rusher in the win over Galion. He finished with 94 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, increasing his season totals to 405 yards on 57 carries (7.1 average).
"Tony is getting an opportunity," Rutherford said. "Basically after the Lake game, he got more of a chance. He got his opportunity at Elmwood and he has started the last four games for us. He's getting better every week."
The Eagles' offensive line deserves credit as well. The combination of senior guard Seth Hoffman, sophomore guard Kris Hayward, junior tackles Jeff Rutherford and Forest Ickes, junior center Taylor Link and senior tight end Clay Rolf helped Eastwood rush for 450 yards against Galion.
The line will have to perform well again this Saturday against Ottawa-Glandorf, which has been in the playoffs eight times including five years running. The Titans are 7-7 all-time in the postseason, including last year's 19-point loss to Genoa in the regional finals.
O-G has outscored its opponents by a 307-139 margin this season. During the regular season the Titans beat four D-III teams and one D-II team (Wapakoneta, 40-15). The Titans' only two losses are to Kenton, 26-10, and St. Marys Memorial, 21-13. Kenton (10-1) is in the D-IV regional semifinals, while St. Marys finished 5-5 and failed to make the playoffs in D-III.
This will be the first meeting between Eastwood and Ottawa-Glandorf.
"The WBL is a great league," Rutheford said. "They play great football in the WBL. They have bigger schools in there. Ottawa-Glandorf is pretty physical. You can tell those guys put in time in the weight room, and they play very hard. It's going to take another huge effort for us to have a chance to get a win this week."
Rutherford said "I'd like to think so" when asked if the Eagles were peaking at the right time.
"Last Saturday," he said, "was the best we've played in the last two years. I really liked our execution and enthusiasm."
Eastwood running back Pernell Connor takes the handoff from quarterback Clayton Ruch during Eastwood’s 35-6 rout over previously undefeated Galion. (Press photo by Lee Welch/www.familyphotogroup.com)