By Mark Saluke
Greentown — A rain-soaked, slippery and swampy Cogdell Field suited Eastern speedster Papee Byers just fine Friday night.
Byers raced for 271 yards and a touchdown, averaging 10 yards per tote on 27 carries, and the Comets rang the victory bell at the south end of their home field for the first time this season, outlasting Taylor 28-19 in Mid-Indiana Conference play.
“There was never a place where I felt like we had the game in hand,” said Eastern coach Josh Edwards, whose Comets held a one-point edge, 20-19, late in the fourth quarter when quarterback Austin Bates ran from 17 yards out and connected with Hayden Vint on the ensuing conversion to make it a nine-point game with 3:49 to play.
Taylor (0-8, 0-6 MIC) moved to the Comets’ 39 on its next possession before K.J. Myers intercepted Titan keeper Dayne Tomlinson’s pass attempt and Eastern (1-7, 1-5) ran out the clock.
“I don’t think there was ever a point where this got away from us,” Titan coach Eric Davis said. “They started to wear us down with the run in the second half. I’d say this was our best game of the season. We’ve played a couple good quarters here and there, and [Friday] we competed for four quarters.”
Eastern opened a back-and-forth first quarter with a score on its first play from scrimmage. The Comets recovered Taylor’s onside opening kick at their own 46. Bates took the first snap and dashed 54 yards untouched to make it 6-0.
“We’ve gotten ourselves in holes early this year, and we knew a good start was huge for us,” Edwards said. “It was crucial for the kids to come out and compete early on, and that was the kind of start we needed.”
The Titans punted on a three-and-out on their first possession but got the ball back quick as Logan Williams intercepted a Bates pass attempt four plays into the Comets’ next drive, giving Taylor the ball near midfield.
Three plays into the drive, Tomlinson pitched to Jordon Lazaro, whose 50-yard touchdown toss to Logan Sarber tied the game. Trevor Marler’s point after gave Taylor its first and only lead, 7-6.
“It was a reverse pass we felt like we could put in because Lazaro throws such a nice ball,” Davis said. “Sarber ran a nice, crisp route and we threw the ball right where we needed to in very adverse conditions.”
The Comets responded with a quick, four-play drive culminating with a 47-yard touchdown scamper from Byers. Byers run for the conversion made it 14-7 after 12 minutes.
Eastern was threatening to break open the game early in the second quarter with first-and-goal at the Titan 10, but the Comets fumbled away a pass that Taylor recovered to end the threat.
“We were starting to get momentum there,” Edwards said. “We get that touchdown there, we go up 21-7 and we’re in good shape. Instead, we fumble. We knew if we let Taylor hang around it was going to be a dogfight, and that’s just what it turned out to be.”
Eastern went on to lose a second fumble in the quarter, putting Taylor in excellent field position at the Comet 17 as the half wore down. Tomlinson ran for all 17 yards on the possession, capping off the drive with a one-yard TD plunge at 1:19. The kick was blocked and Eastern hung on to a one-point, 14-13 edge at the half.
Kerrigan Forgrave put the Comets up 20-13 at 9:25 in the third quarter with a 15-yard dash to paydirt.
Taylor made it a one-point game again at 2:05 in the quarter, 20-19, when Jordan Allen blocked an Eastern punt, setting up first-and-goal at the four. Tomlinson ran from three yards out on the second play but the conversion after failed and the Comets continued clinging to the smallest of leads.
Taylor opened the fourth quarter attempting to take the lead, moving to the Comet 21. But the Eastern D held as the Titans couldn’t convert on fourth down and the Comets took over on a drive that would lead to Bates’ TD run.
“Defensively, we made some plays we haven’t made this year,” Edwards said. “We had a good stop on that fourth-and-four, had the blocked extra point, had the interception, just good plays that were made at critical times.
“Our O-line was huge in the second half. The kids were charged at halftime. I pulled the seniors aside and told them this was a chance for them to leave an impression on the underclassmen.”
Byers picked up 171 of his yards in the second half. For the game, Bates added 67 on the ground as Eastern finished with 370 yards rushing.
For the Titans, Tomlinson picked up a team-high 58 yards.