SHARPSVILLE — Eastern’s first play from scrimmage went for 16 yards when Makhai Reed took a handoff across the line and found a seam. Two plays later, quarterback Nolan Grubb found receiver Evan Monize for a 31-yard completion. And a play after that, running back Zane Downing ran in from five yards out.
In just four plays after receiving a punt, Eastern took the advantage, and the big-play Comets made sure they held it the rest of the game. Class 2A co-No. 10 Eastern recorded a 40-7 victory over Tri-Central in Hoosier Heartland Conference action Friday night.
Five of Grubb’s eight completions went for 10 yards or more, with three going for 31 yards or more. Downing ran 17 times for 115 yards. He scored three times, including 49-yard burst in the third quarter.
Reed ran only three times but scored twice, including a 53-yarder in the third quarter.
“I like the big plays, but at the same time I want to be able to start putting some drives together where we have to go 10, 12, 15 plays, but with Zane and Makhai and Ethan Jones, they’re able to put together big, explosive plays for us, which cuts down the amount of plays that we run,” Eastern coach Josh Edwards said. “But we’ll take that. We like the explosiveness of our team. That’s one of our strengths.
“And I think having Makhai Reed and Zane Downing in the backfield, it’s a pretty deadly combination.”
Eastern’s longest scoring drives were a pair of nine-play possessions.
Eastern (7-0, 5-0 HHC) led 21-0 at halftime. Downing added a one-yard TD run in the second quarter, and Jones scored when Grubb hit him in stride on a slicing slot route for a 12-yard score in the second quarter.
Reed scored on a five-yard run to open the second half and ripped off his 53-yarder on the next possession for a 34-0 Eastern lead.
Tri-Central (2-5, 0-5 HHC) took advantage of a turnover and punched in a score when quarterback Mason Pickens ran in from four yards out to post TC’s points with 0:07 left in the third quarter.
After the kickoff, Downing closed the scoring with his 49-yard TD run on the final play of the third quarter.
“They are a solid, well-rounded team,” TC coach Shane Arnold said. “They’re physical, they’re fast, they’re deep — they only have a few guys going both ways — and they’re extremely well coached.
“We’ve just got to execute. We’ve got to focus on us. We get caught too much in outside noise.”
The Trojans had spells of effective play, gaining 11 first downs to Eastern’s 13, but long drives were hard to sustain. Running back Ethan Mason ran 15 times for 66 yards, Pickens ran 13 times for 49 yards and completed 3 of 12 passes for 48 yards.
Eastern amassed more than 200 yards on the ground before a few late backwards plays dropped the team’s rushing total to 197. Grubb completed 8 of 15 passes for 140 yards with Evan Monize catching three passes for 82 yards and Jones catching three for 50.
“I felt like the team’s effort was good,” Edwards said. “I felt like we were sloppy. We had several penalties that were unforced penalties.
“I felt like route running was not as crisp. I felt like we had some breakdowns in pass protection, but again, I told the guys coming in that Tri-Central was going to be aggressive and scrappy. That’s what I told [Arnold, after the game], those guys go hard and don’t quit.
“But overall I felt like our backs ran hard. I felt like our offensive line did a very good job of opening up holes for our running backs and I did feel like Nolan Grubb threw the ball very well when he was able to get those balls off and our kids caught the balls well, so that’s a positive.”
Holding TC scoreless for nearly three quarters was another positive.
“Defensively our kids did a nice job there only giving up one touchdown,” Edwards said.
The HHC has two squads unbeaten in league play, Class A No. 9 Sheridan and Eastern, both now 5-0. The two square off next week in Greentown.
“I think Eastern is phenomenal. [Next Friday] them and Sheridan ought to be a great game,” Arnold said. “We’ve got to regroup and get focused on Taylor.”