By MIKE BLATT Kokomo Tribune
---- — GREENTOWN — The visiting Bluffton Tigers offered up their own version of “shock and awe” here Friday night as they used a fast start to overwhelm Eastern 62-34 in a Class 2A Sectional 36 battle.
It took the Tigers less than five minutes of the first quarter to build a 23-0 lead that left the Comets scrambling the rest of the night. While Eastern was able to pull within two touchdowns twice in the second half, a 33-point third quarter by Bluffton quashed the threat, and two fourth-period TDs by the Comets could only make the final score more respectable.
On Bluffton’s third play from scrimmage, fullback Javon Morgan burst off right guard for 50 yards to make it 6-0 just 52 seconds into the game. Then Eastern quarterback Austin Bates was sacked and fumbled on third down with Tiger tackle Jay Brickley recovering at the Eastern 19. D’Wayne Eskridge cashed in from the one for the first of his five TDs and added the two-point conversion for a 14-0 lead.
On the Comets’ next possession, Bates was sacked for a safety. After the free kick, Eskridge went 48 yards to the one and then scored again for a 23-0 lead.
Eastern (2-8) settled down after that, but the damage was done.
“We had a great week of practice,” said Eastern coach Josh Edwards. “[The start of the game] was really surprising for me. I don’t know that it was a problem with preparation so much as not matching the intensity of Bluffton’s older kids.”
“I give credit to [Bluffton] coach [Casey] Kolkman. Great, great game plan. They executed it, played their tails off. So credit goes to them.”
Bluffton (5-5) made it 29-0 early in the second quarter on another Eskridge run from three yards out, but Eastern answered. Papee Byers broke off a 39-yard run to Bluffton’s seven, and after a loss of six, Bates found Braden Evans open over the middle to narrow it to 29-6 at the half.
The Comets received to open the third stanza, and on the first play from scrimmage, Bates ran 56 yards for the score. Byers added the deuce and it was 29-14.
But Bluffton answered quickly. Eskridge broke off a 55-yard run and scored from 17 yards out to make it 35-14. Once again, Eastern responded. A nine-play 69-yard drive was capped by Byers’ 35-yard scamper around left end to narrow the gap to 35-20.
Then the Tigers put the game out of reach with four consecutive scores. Morgan scored from 15 yards out, QB Malcom Marshall ran one in from the eight, Eskridge broke free from 39 yards away, and Cody Harris returned an interception 62 yards to put the game out of reach at 62-20.
The Comets managed two fourth-quarter scores, a Bates to Will Porter 33-yard pass and a six-yard end around by Braden Gibson. But it wasn’t enough.
Eskridge finished with 216 yards on 18 carries while Morgan had 111 yards on just eight rushes. For Eastern, Byers broke the century mark with 103 yards on 12 totes, and Bates completed 12 of 32 passes for 127 yards.
Looking ahead, Edwards is excited about next year as the Comets return 40 of 43 players.
“We’ve got basically our entire team coming back next year,” he said. “We’re very young. If we get these kids in the weight room and get them to become more physical and more mature mentally, I think this is going to be a team to be reckoned with.”