Eagles gelling at right time entering regional semis

J. Patrick Eaken

Eastwood football coach Craig Rutherford feels like his team is gelling at the right time.
The Eagles were 6-1 going into Saturday’s Division V regional semifinal playoff match against Richwood North Union (7-2), which advanced by defeating No. 1 seed Liberty-Benton, 28-7.
In a physical game, the Wildcats had defeated Genoa (4-5) 35-7 in the second round of the playoffs. However, Rutherford believed his team was up to the task, improving since their week two 17-7 loss to Northern Buckeye Conference champion Otsego.
“You know, you can count on us really getting into the rhythm that you would normally be getting into at the end of the regular season, which is pretty much where we are at,” Rutherford said. “We continue to get better every week, and obviously that is everybody’s goal, but we’re doing it right now. It is a good time to be continuing to get better, in the playoffs.”
NBC wins have been over Fostoria (42-6), Woodmore (45-7), Rossford (14-0), Lake (31-24) and Elmwood (52-28). The Eagles opened the playoffs defeating Apple Creek Waynedale (3-6), 35-0.
“We knew that they definitely have some talent. Their quarterback is a real playmaker, and we knew that in order to win we were going to have to contain him,” Rutherford said.
“We had nine sacks in that game and that was one of the main differences with our ability to get pressure on the quarterback and then also, right from the first drive, we established the run and were committed to dominating them up front and our line did a great job. We played one of our best games.”
Eastwood’s offensive line, 5-foot-11, 240-pound junior Keegan Shank, 6-2, 197-pound senior Blake Landis, 5-7, 186-pound sophomore Jordan Pickerel, 6-3, 203 pound senior Max Buchman, 6-2, 254-pound senior Maverick Bowser and 5-9, 183-pound senior Owen Brinker just took over. Landis was the Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press Lineman of the Year in 2019.
As a result of their 1,263 pounds of protection, 5-8, 155-pound sophomore running back Bryce Koprowski-Kistner has 772 yards rushing on 138 attempts, 6-2, 218-pound junior Emmet Getz has 343 yards on 65 carries, 5-11, 215-pound senior Gage Might has 258 yards on 32 carries and 5-7, 165-pound junior Ethan Kwitakowski has 225 yards on 40 carries.
Koprowski-Kistner has scored nine touchdowns, Getz and Might have scored five times apiece, and 6-1, 218-pound split end Andrew Arnston has found the end zone four times. Senior kicker Connor Oberhouse has scored 40 points on three field goals and 31 point-after kicks.
However, there was another variable in the win over Waynedale — the play of 5-10, 182-pound senior quarterback Jared McNulty, who connected on every pass he threw.
“Our quarterback was 3-of-3 with two touchdowns. It’s been a couple weeks since he has thrown an incompletion. He’s completing all of his passes, and when you run as well as we do, it can really open some things up,” Rutherford said.
“We’re going to need some need of that if we want to keep advancing, so Jared McNulty has done a nice job for us. We’ve got some guys who can go get it, so that’s what’s fun, too.”
For the year, McNulty has completed 28 of 47 passes (59.6 percent) for 437 yards and six TDs. Koprowski-Kistner has caught six passes for 139 yards and Arnston has seven receptions for 133 yards.
The defense stepped up, too, pitching a shutout against a Waynedale team that had defeated higher seed Lake (4-4), 26-20, to advance.
“The way our defense was playing we had great field position all night, so we didn’t have to drive the ball far,” Rutherford said. “We didn’t get any turnovers until the very end. We just forced some three and outs. It really was a physical game — I thought it was the most physical that we played up until that point.”
If the Eagles got past North Union, they would have the winner of No. 2 seed Otsego (8-0) and No. 3 seed Ottawa-Glandorf (7-1). Rutherford says his players would love a rematch with the Knights.
“We’re still playing a lot of young guys. We have a really good balance of seniors, juniors and sophomores,” Rutherford said.
“No classes are a really big classes, but they complement each other really well. We played some young guys early and there can be some growing pains, and Otsego is a really experienced team. They were definitely better than us on that night (week two), but like any competitive team we would love another shot to get to them if it comes to it.”
The previous week, Eastwood was supposed to take on Oak Harbor (4-3) in a regional quarterfinal, but that game was declared a no-contest because of COVID issues. It was the second time this season that the Eagles went into a weekend with a bye. Rutherford made some adjustments last week to his practice schedule.
“We kept them coming in, just went a lot shorter,” Rutherford said. “We did not do as much game plan stuff, did more fundamental stuff, and worked to get some of our young guys in and try to build some depth. We want to just make sure we are ready to go the next week. We are more experienced now. This is the second time we’ve done it and we’re starting to get it down.”
One question remains — Eastwood had an NBC game remaining with Genoa and Otsego had an NBC game with Elmwood (4-4). An Eastwood win and Otsego loss could have meant a co-championship, but chances of that happening are now next to none, especially since Elmwood had to cancel last week’s game against Genoa because of COVID issues.
“I don’t think that is going to happen. I do not know how that final league game is going to work out. Obviously, we are a few weeks away,” Rutherford said.


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