ALEXANDRIA­ — You’ve got to hand it to the Eastern football team’s defense: It sure can change the tide of a game in a hurry.

The Comets’ offense isn’t too shabby either.

Combined, the two elements put an early 7-0 deficit out of sight early att Alexandria on Friday night, prevailing 20-7 over the host Tigers in a Class 2A Sectional 36 semifinal. The No. 9-ranked Comets host No. 8-ranked Eastbrook in next week’s championship.

“Always wanted this to happen and it’s just great,” Comet senior linebacker Tytus Morrisett said. “I think we just woke up. We just weren’t us early and then we started communicating. Our defense had a spark and I think their offense started getting tired and they were getting bummed out that we were actually making plays. I think that was a key part of it.”

Tytus and brother Tallan, a junior linebacker, led a stampede of blitzes and constant pressure on Alexandria quarterback Rylan Metz, who completed 29 of 43 passes for 310 yards, with 230 coming in the first half before the Comets’ constant pressure shifted the tone of the game.

“We just started playing better,” Tallan Morrisett said. “Something clicked. At halftime we came back out and just unleashed the animal, started rushing better, our linebackers were getting into the backfield and wreaking havoc. We knew we had to step it up or it was going to be a long trip home.”

Eastern improved to 11-0, a school-record for wins in a season, and is now set to play in the program’s first sectional championship in football since 2001.

“Really excited to play for a sectional championship for the first time since '01,” junior workhorse Zane Downing said.

Downing turned in his usual ground-churning night with 147 rushing yards on 25 carries. But it was his play not related to those rushing yards that gave Eastern just enough of a boost to get over the hump in a tight contest.

With Eastern nursing a 13-7 lead early in the second half, Downing corralled a short pass from Comet quarterback Nolan Grubb. Met by a defender right around the line of scrimmage, Downing shook that man and many more off, barreling through several defenders while dragging along a few more at different times before finding the endzone for a 33-yard touchdown.

Kyle McCreary’s point after made it 20-7 with 7:12 to play in the third quarter. The score stuck the rest of the way as Eastern’s D forced Alexandria (6-5) into two punts and two turnovers the rest of the way to seal the win.

“Probably halfway through the fourth quarter it just felt like we just kept moving forward,” Tytus Morrisett said of when he started feeling like the Comets’ were closing in on the victory.

Added junior linebacker Jaeden Hannah: “I knew we had to stay calm and not have any doubt. I always thought we were going to win. Our mindset was really superb.”

Alexandria took its second drive of the game 55 yards in just six plays, with Metz hitting Jagger Orick with a 42-yard strike with 4:35 to play in the opening quarter.

That precision drive ended up being the Tigers' only trip to paydirt. Eastern quickly responded with a five-play drive. Grubb connected on big pass plays of 31 yards to Drew Monize and 22 to Ethan Jones before capping the drive with a two-yard keeper to get the Comets within 7-6 with 2:01 to play in the opening frame.

Grubb, who completed 5 of 11 passes for 100 yards, put Eastern up for good with his 18-yard pass to Evan Monize with 1:11 to play in the first half to give the Comets a 13-7 lead.

Alexandria saw a 55-yard drive stall out at the end of the half when the Tigers missed a 32-yard field goal as time expired.

Metz was phenomenal early, completing 18 of 24 first-half passes. After his 230-yard first half, he completed 11 of 19 passes for 80 yards in the second half while the Tigers ground game was close to non-existent, finishing with 40 yards on 28 carries.

“It’s exciting,” Eastern coach Josh Edwards said of another big win against another stellar passer after staving off Lapel’s strong passing attack last week. “We had a solid week of practice, but I felt like we just came out a little lethargic, adjusting to the speed of their receivers and the way their quarterback threw. We came out a little flat on offense, had some early procedure penalties.

“Our defense was a little shaky right at first but I’ll tell you what, the coaches did some adjusting and we really pinned their ears back in the second half and absolutely shut them down. It was amazing. It’s huge for the program. These guys have earned the spotlight.”

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