Eastern’s football team already has packed a lot of highlights into this season including its first conference championship since 1984, its first unbeaten regular season since 1974 and a school record for single-season wins.
The Comets will shoot for another big moment tonight.
No. 9-ranked Eastern (11-0) hosts No. 8 Eastbrook (9-2) at 7 p.m. in the Class 2A Sectional 36 championship. Eastern has never won a sectional title.
“We’re excited,” Eastern coach Josh Edwards said. “We’re practicing in November, which is a pretty cool thing. One of our goals this year was to make it to November and that’s where we’re at and we’re giving ourselves an opportunity to do something that’s never been done at Eastern. There’s never been a sectional championship team in football at Eastern.”
Cass and Peru also will play for sectional titles tonight. No. 1-ranked Cass hosts LaVille at 7:30 p.m. in the Class 2A Sectional 34 final and Peru hosts Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran at 7 p.m. in the Class 3A Sectional 27 final.
For Eastern to break through and win its first sectional, it will need to beat one of Class 2A’s best programs. Eastbrook has won three straight sectionals and 14 all-time. The Panthers made it to the State Finals in two of the previous three years, losing to Cardinal Ritter in 2016 and Western Boone last year.
“They’re one of those opponents that if you’re going to get to where you want to go, you’re going to have to beat them eventually,” Edwards said.
Eastbrook beat Eastern in the opening rounds of the 2016 and ‘17 sectionals by scores of 44-3 and 56-7.
“We were able to see them and we know they’re talented and well coached,” Edwards said. “But we’ve told the kids that if we want to get to where we want to be, which is one of the best teams in central Indiana, we’re going to have to beat the best.”
Eastbrook opened the season with losses to Class 4A teams Marion and Delta before reeling off nine straight wins. The Panthers beat Class 4A team Mississinewa early in the win streak.
The Panthers score 39.6 points per game and hold opponents to 14.4 ppg. Their offense is run-heavy and led by Wyatt Stephenson (1,014 yards, 19 touchdowns), Dylan Bragg (665-8), Isaiah Dalton (543-7) and Zeke Binkerd (536-7).
“I think they are very balanced this year,” Edwards said, noting past Panther teams often had one player who commanded attention. “They’re equally as talented as they have been, they just don’t have the one person who pops out at you.”
The Comets score 33.7 ppg and hold opponents to 9.4 ppg.
“The key for us is on defense, we have to control them and not let them have big plays. If we can make them drive the ball, 10- [to] 15-play drives, I think that will put us in a good position defensively,” Edwards said. “I think offensively, we have to keep the clock running and then we cannot turn the ball over.”
Running back Zane Downing, with more than 1,500 yards and 23 touchdowns, leads the Comets’ offense. Quarterback Nolan Grubb has passed for 1,199 yards and eight touchdowns.
All-time, Eastbrook is 6-0 against Eastern in sectional games. That includes a 27-0 victory over the Comets in 2001, the only other time Eastern has reached a sectional final.
LAVILLE AT CASS
The No. 1-ranked Kings (10-1) host No. 12 LaVille (9-2) at 7:30 p.m. for the Class 2A Sectional 34 championship. Cass has won seven sectional titles in football, the last coming in 2012.
Cass and LaVille have one common opponent in Pioneer. LaVille lost to Pioneer 36-14 in Week 3, while Cass defeated Pioneer 28-22 in Week 1 and 43-8 in their sectional opener.
“LaVille is a good football team. Obviously if you win nine games you’re a good football team,” Cass coach Jeff Phillips said. “Offensively they’ve got some weapons, they’ve got some speed. We’ve been working this week on our pursuit angles. On their perimeter plays we need to make sure we get it contained and not over-run the ball because their backs, including their quarterback, they will cut it across the grain. So I think pursuit and correct pursuit angles are going to be big for us.
“I think field position is going to be important, and they’ve got a kicker who has given them great field position most of the year. So we’ve got to win the field position battle, we’ve got to get great returns on the deep kicks, both punts and kickoffs, as well as we’ve got to do a better job on our kickoff coverage, so that’s been a point of emphasis for us this week as well.”
CONCORDIA AT PERU
The two teams left standing in Class 3A Sectional 27 square off tonight at Peru in the title game that pits a pair of 6-5 teams with little else in common.
Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran brings in a big-play passing attack that gets even more dangerous when its run game is efficient. Peru counters with a run-first approach that has also shown the ability to break off big gains.
“Offensively, their passing game is definitely dangerous because their quarterback [Brandon Davis] can throw it. He’s got speed as well,” Peru coach Romison Saint-Louis said. “He likes to stay in the pocket but if he needs to he can get out of the pocket and make things happen. They’re a threat to score with all their receivers. They’re pretty dynamic. We have to do something defensively to cover them up and take care of that. They can run as well.”
Concordia opened the sectional with a 42-21 victory over Maconaquah, then beat Norwell 17-14 last week. Maconaquah is the only common foe between tonight’s rivals, with Peru falling to Mac 43-27 in Week 5. Against Mac, Concordia had nine plays of 15 yards or more, with seven coming via the air.
“Obviously the biggest thing is we’ve got to limit the explosive plays as much as possible because they get a lot of them,” Saint-Louis said. “But we want to make them drive down the field, and we want to drive down the field.”
Peru has run for 2,517 yards and passed for 1,414. The Bengal Tigers opened sectional play with a 24-20 victory over Oak Hill, then beat Heritage 37-7 last week. Against Heritage, Brayden Masters scored on a 49-yard run and a 48-yard run, and Levi Strong had a pair of 20-yard scoring runs in a three-TD game.
Saint-Louis stressed that the Bengals can’t afford turnovers and negative plays against Concordia, which has solid defensive line play and linebacker play. The Heritage game was Peru’s first turnover-free game of the season.
“They’re going to give us space somewhere and we have to attack that space,” Saint-Louis said.
“We’ve just got to compete. We’ve got to make sure we keep all their playmakers in front of us. That’s the biggest thing.”
Peru regular QB Michael Chandler was injured in the first quarter of last week’s game and will be a game-time decision tonight. Primary running back Daunte Majors is still out of action with an injury after playing the first eight games of the season.
Peru is shooting for its first sectional title since 1982. The Bengals and Cadets have met only twice, with Concordia winning a sectional game in 2005 and Peru winning a sectional game in 1998.