By MARK SALUKE
---- — UPLAND — Its senior stud limited to kicking duties, Eastbrook was already up against the ropes when Western visited for the teams’ annual Week 2 clash.
Five first-half fumbles put the Grant County Panthers down for the count.
The Howard County crew pounced on Eastbrook’s miscues to go up 18-3 at the half, holding on for a 24-11 win Friday night. Western improved to 2-0 on the season, snapping a five-game losing streak to the Grant County Panthers which included two losses last year in Nate Andrews’ first season at the Russiaville helm.
“It really doesn’t matter what our record is as long as we’re improving and getting better each week, and I think we are doing that,” Andrews said. “Last year we really improved against them and thought, coming over here [Friday], that we had a good opportunity.
“With their stud [quarterback Jacob Singer] being out of the game, it probably gave us an even better opportunity. The thing is, they are a talented program and as a program it doesn’t matter who is in or who is out. They don’t build their talent on one player. Eastbrook is Eastbrook. I admire that.”
Singer put Eastbrook up 3-0 with a 19-yard field goal on its first possession of the game, but that’s all of the offensive noise Jeff Adamson’s squad would make for the rest of the first half as his team coughed up the football on five of its next seven possessions, three of which Western turned into points.
“That made it not very realistic to stay in the game,” Adamson said. “It was kind of a miracle that the score was as close as it was at halftime as many times as we put the ball on the ground in the first half.”
For the game, Western recovered all six of the fumbles that Eastbrook committed.
“Some of them were self-inflicted, but I’d like to say that at least half of those we caused or forced with a hit or strip of the football,” Andrews said. “The other great part of that is that I thought we were very opportunistic about recovering [the ball.]”
Three times in the first half, Western made Eastbrook pay for its miscues. On the possession following Eastbrook’s second fumble, Western quarterback Drew Bellus broke loose from 49 yards out for a score. Ben Lenahan turned Eastbrook’s next fumble into points with a two-yard run to make it 12-3. Bellus capped the first-half scoring with a 28-yard pass to Dustin Hinkle for the 18-3 lead at the half.
Bellus completed 3 of 5 passes with one interception for 60 yards and led the ground attack with 79 yards. He added another touchdown run from a yard out in the third quarter to give Western its largest lead at 24-3.
“He continues to improve,” Andrews said of Bellus. “That gives our offense a little more versatility when he can run the football for us.”
After limiting Frankfort to 77 yards in Week 1, Western’s defense held Eastbrook to 29 total yards and just two first downs in the first half Friday. Eastbrook, which fell to 0-2 for the first time since 2000, only mustered 105 yards for the game.
“They are very physical,” Adamson said. “And it’s very physical on both sides of the ball. Defensively they are really quick, and they are very physical offensively. You take a beating trying to tackle those backs.”