PEMBERVILLE — After trailing 14-3 at the half, Eastwood mounted a second half comeback to defeat Oak Harbor, 24-20, at Jerry Rutherford Stadium Friday.
“This is a special team, a special group of seniors,” Eastwood coach Craig Rutherford said. “We’ve been through a lot, and it’s a big game and we knew that it was going to be a fight.
“You have to give Oak Harbor credit — they had one heck of a game plan and their guys played really hard. I’m proud of the way our guys responded.”
The Eagles stay unbeaten at 12-0 and advance to the Division V regional semifinal round of the playoffs, where they will face a familiar foe, Elmwood (11-1), at a neutral site to be named.
In their first meeting, which decided the Northern Buckeye Conference champion, the Eagles held on for a 49-48 victory over the Royals.
Rutherford is just glad his team is keeping its playoff hopes alive.
“This is a special senior class for us and we’re just excited we get to come out one more week and practice and play with this group one more time and see what we can do,” Rutherford said.
Oak Harbor, the Sandusky Bay Conference Bay Division champions, unbeaten in league play, saw its season end at 9-2.
Eastwood senior quarterback Case Boos scored on a two-yard run just two minutes and 49 seconds after the second half kickoff, capping a four-play, 47-yard drive, to bring the Eagles to within one possession, 14-10.
Eastwood senior running back Bryce DeFalco powered his way into the end zone on a two-yard run, capping a six-play, 75-yard drive with 1:33 remaining in the third, putting the Eagles up 17-14.
Boos then threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Kaiden Sanchez, who got behind the defense, with 5:31 remaining in the game, capping a 10-play drive that began at the Eagles’ two-yard line, giving Eastwood a two-possession lead.
Running back Jaqui Hayward scored from one yard for Oak Harbor’s final score with 1:49 remaining.
Boos said Eastwood’s response was warranted after the Eagles had trouble getting their offense moving in the first half.
“We were in the locker room, and we looked at the film, and we knew it wasn’t us,” Boos said.
“We didn’t see that spark that has been there for the last 11 weeks and we kind of took that to heart, and we came out here and swarmed together, and we got some stops.
“I mean, there is nowhere else I’d rather be than in the locker room than with those guys at halftime. We always stuck together,” Boos continued.
“We knew the second half was going to go different just because of the fire we had in there. We were all just going over to each other saying it was not over, because we knew it wasn’t over because of how hard we fight.
“We came out here in the second half and put up 21 points unanswered, and then they scored at the end. It was incredible for my guys.
“It was different coming out the second half because we knew our offensive line — they just wanted it more,” added Boos.
Rutherford said it was not just the fight his players had, but some adjustments the coaching staff and players made at halftime.
“We took a look at what adjustments they were making,” Rutherford said. “They put together a great gameplan, but we thought if we came out and played our game that eventually something would break.
“Our offensive line played well and obviously Case Boos can bust one off when he’s got an open space.
“We finally got some movement and got him loose and our guys responded. There was no panic. We knew we had to come up with a couple stops and we got them.”
Oak Harbor finished with an 18-11 advantage in first downs, but Eastwood’s big play offense had 304 total yards to the Rockets’ 281.
Boos ran 29 times for 191 yards, and he completed 3-of-6 passes for 103 yards, including two to Isaac Reynolds for 42 yards. DeFalco had five carries for 15 yards.
On defense, Caleb Souder had seven tackles and four assists, Reynolds had five tackles and four assists, Jaleel Rayford had three tackles, three assists, and a sack for a five-yard loss.
Bryce Hesselbart had two tackles and nine assists and brother Dalton Hesselbart had two tackles and four assists, plus a sack for a seven-yard loss.
The Eagles only first half score was a 24-yard field goal by Robby Rothenbuhler, who was also 3-for-3 in conversion kicks.
Oak Harbor scored on a seven-yard run on the first play of the second quarter and Michael Lalonde threw a nine-yard TD pass to Garry Brooks with 2:24 remaining until halftime.
For Oak Harbor, Lalonde completed 18-of-28 passes for 153 yards, including five to Carson Ridener for 54 yards, seven to Hayden Buhro for 38 yards, three to Hayward for 30 yards and two to Jaxon Overmyer for 22 yards.
Ridener ran for 72 yards on 15 carries, Hayward ran for 42 yards on seven carries, and Lalonde had 11 yards rushing on five carries.
For the Rockets’ defense, Buhro had five tackles and six assists, Ridener had three tackles, nine assists, and sack for a five-yard loss, and Travis Bouyer had two tackles, two assists, and a sack for a six-yard loss.
(Interviews by Sentinel-Tribune photographer J.D. Pooley)