BUTLER — It was a long time coming, but Eastside’s football team captured the first sectional championship in program history, shutting out Fairfield 34-0 in the Class 2A Sectional 35 title game at Butler Friday.
The Blazers (10-2) will travel to rural Marion for regional play to face Eastbrook (10-2), a 42-12 winner over previously unbeaten Eastern (Greentown) in the Class 36 sectional championship game.
“I can’t be happier for our fans, our community, our football players, our staff, everybody that’s involved in Eastside football, not just now but in years past,” Eastside coach Todd Mason said afterwards.
“It’s been a long time coming, and I’m certainly proud of the fact that we could make this happen.
“Kudos to Fairfield. They played an awesome game,” Mason said. “Coach (Matt) Thacker has taken an 0-9 team a year ago to the sectional championship.
“I told our seniors when we started this journey, if we get to November, anything can happen. We made it to November, and look what’s happened.”
The Falcons went three-and-out on its first four possessions of the game.
After failing to score in the first half of their last three games, the Blazers were finally able to get one on the board in the second quarter, with Laban Davis waltzing in from the 9 with 11 minutes, 29 seconds left after Fairfield’s defense bought the fake dive by Dax Holman.
The Blazer defense had to step up and play tough as Fairfield recovered a fumbled punt at the Eastside 37. The Falcons wound up turning the ball over on downs.
The Blazers had a touchdown called back before the half ended when quarterback Laban Davis tucked the ball away and ran for what appeared to be a 39-yard run, but the officials called Eastside for an illegal block in the back penalty, negating the score. The half ended at 7-0.
Eastside has been a second-half team the past four games, and it was once more Friday.
It didn’t look like it in the third when Holman lost the ball on the way to a sure touchdown, but teammate Lane Burns made up for it when he intercepted a Grant Thacker pass and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown. Jaiden Baker’s second extra-point kick of the game made it 14-0 Blazers with 2:20 left.
On Fairfield’s next possession, Eastside’s Phoenix Smyth broke through to block a punt and recovered it at the Falcon 6 with 1:12 to go in the third. One play later, Ethan Farnsworth crashed into the end zone, and Baker’s kick extended the lead to 21-0.
The teams exchanged turnovers in close succession — Fairfield on a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Eastside on a bad exchange and the Falcons on another fumble, gathered up by Holman.
The Blazers turned that one into more points, with Davis connecting with Burns for a 19-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth.
Eastside added one more score, an 8-yard pass from Davis to Farnsworth. Baker’s kick made it 34-0 with 4:25 to play.
There was still time until the celebration could begin, but Fairfield coughed up the ball once more, and Eastside ran out the final 3:17 to end it.
The Blazers featured a balanced rushing attack; Matt Firestine rushed for 59 yards. Holman finished with 52 yards and Farnsworth added 51.
Davis completed 8-of-12 passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
Burns caught four passes for 62 yards. Wade Miller had one reception for 46 yards.
“I’ll be 100 percent honest with you. When we met before media day, I told our guys that we could run the table and win a sectional, but a lot of things had to happen,” Mason said. “Our young guys had to mature and become varsity ballplayers real quick.
“We dropped two early (to Adams Central and West Noble) but we had chances to win both of those games. We sat down the Churubusco week and I told them, ‘I’m tired of this nonsense of turning the ball over and panicking.’
“We still do some of that, but we’re winning, and you can’t over-complicate winning.”