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MIDDLETOWN – Last year Eastern outscored Collins, 35-0, in the second half of their football game, a 49-28 victory by the Eagles.
On Friday night the third and fourth quarters were once again Eastern time.
The Eagles outscored the Titans, 21-6, after halftime, rallying for a 41-29 victory, in a game that was closer than the final score.
Collins led, 23-13, late in the first half and late in the third quarter, 23-20, before the Eagles erupted for touchdowns of 27, 50 and 46 yards in the final 13 minutes.
“I thought it was a very evenly-matched game,” said Titans Coach Jerry Lucas, whose team amassed the same amount of total yards (459) as Eastern. “They just made two or three really athletic plays.
“[And] we got down in the red zone [inside the 20-yard line] two or three times and didn’t score.…When you play a team like that, you’ve got to finish. We’ve got to capitalize against great teams. Heck, against good teams we’ve got to capitalize.”
The Eagles entered the game ranked sixth in Class 6A by The Associated Press, but it was the Class 4A Titans who took an early, 10-0 lead.
On the game’s second play, Collins forced a fumble at the Eagles’ 24 and needed just six plays to convert the turnover into points, taking the lead on Logan Bailey’s 5-yard run.
A successful onside kick followed the touchdown, and six plays later – and less than six minutes into the game – Collins led 10-0 after sophomore Blanton Creque booted a 33-yard field goal.
The Eagles (3-1), who went 10-3 last season, answered with a 14-play, 94-yard drive. Roland Brady scored on a 1-yard run, but the conversion failed.
The Titans (2-2) responded with a long scoring drive of their own. This one, nine plays for 80 yards, was capped when quarterback Lawson Page threw a 16-yard TD pass to Dre Farris, who barely got a foot down, in the back of the end zone. The conversion failed, but Collins still led, 16-6, early in the second quarter.
Eastern took just two plays to answer again. After an incompletion Eagles quarterback Cody Wolfe sidestepped a potential sack and threw to a streaking Tre Harrison down the sideline for a 75-yard TD.
Collins came right back, though. Page threw four consecutive completions – 25 yards to Landon Forrest, 4 to Nathan Sames, 32 to Sames then 23 yards to Jordan Parker – to set up Masai Whyte’s 2-yard touchdown run. The PAT made it 23-13.
With time running out late in the half and having taken over on downs from the Eagles inside its own 10, Collins turned over the ball at its 20 on a fumble by Whyte.
“It just came out,” Whyte said. “I just have to work on my ball security.”
A penalty pushed the Eagles back to Collins’ 44, where Harrison took a handoff from Wolfe and started out to his right. He was nearly caught in the backfield before cutting back to his left, where he found an opening to the end zone. His TD, just 26 seconds before halftime, trimmed the Titans’ lead to 23-20.
After an offensive pass interference penalty thwarted a drive by Collins early in the third quarter, another penalty – this one a roughing the passer on a halfback pass – kept Eastern’s ensuing drive alive and eventually led to the go-ahead touchdown. That came when Wolfe, facing a second-and-4 from the Titans’ 27, froze the defense with a fake option pitch, then used a little hip wiggle in the middle of the field to elude a would-be tackler and get around to the outside for a TD with 46 seconds left in the quarter.
Collins drove to Eastern’s 34 following an interception by Elijah Jones, but four consecutive passes fell incomplete. The Eagles took over, and, three plays later, Harrison took a short pass from Wolfe, broke two tackles along his own sideline and sprinted for a 50-yard touchdown to give the Eagles a 34-23 lead.
The Titans immediately drove 67 yards in seven plays, with Page throwing 18 yards to Jones for a touchdown with 3:24 to play. The 2-point conversion attempt failed, leaving it 34-29.
With about a minute left Eastern faced a fourth-and-1 on Collins’ 46-yard line. With the Titans jammed up to the line of scrimmage to defend an expected run, Harrison broke through the line and then free for 46 yards and a TD with 54.9 seconds to play.
“We just missed a couple tackles,” said Whyte, who made plenty of tackles (17) along with his touchdown. “Our defense just needed to make a couple more stops.”
Page led the offense, amassing 102 rushing yards on 15 carries and completing 20 of 40 passes for 317 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
However that wasn’t enough to overcome Harrison’s 317 total yards (141 rushing, 176 receiving) and three touchdowns or Wolfe’s 274 passing yards and two touchdowns and his one rushing score.
“We’re never going to be satisfied with a loss, but I’m not upset,” Lucas said afterward.
The Titans have a bye week this week before beginning district play Sept. 21 against Spencer County.