SIDNEY - East Mills coach Andy Irwin said it wasn’t the rain Friday night that diverted his usually pass happy offense into running the ball 27 times in the second half and passing just four times.
Whatever the reason - and for the record, Irwin said it was mostly a halftime adjustment to emphasize the run in the second half - it’s hard to argue with the Wolverines’ success. East Mills rushed for a 168 yards and Jake Bolton threw for two scores all after halftime to hang on late for a 26-22 victory over Sidney in Eight Man, District 8 football on Friday.
With a persistent rain drizzling on the field for most of the final three quarters, the Wolverines passed 10 times in the first quarter alone and 19 times in the first half before going to the run after the break. Bolton threw just four passes after halftime, but two of his three completions went for touchdowns.
“It was a little bit of the weather,” conceded Irwin after the game. “But we also thought there were a few things we could do that were going to let us run the ball. We did a lot better job following our blockers in the second half, too. And we were able to get outside, which opened up our inside game.”
The Wolverines held a 192 to 111 edge in yards, but the game was deadlocked at 14-14 at halftime.
In the second half, the Wolverines forced a Cowboy three-and-out on their opening drive. Taking the ball at their own 10 yard line, East Mills capped a nine-play, 70-yard drive with Bolton's 20-yard dart to Luke Schafer with just under seven minutes to go in the third quarter. They would miss the two-point conversion but take the 20-14 lead.
After Sidney appeared to be putting together a scoring drive, marching from its own 30 to the East Mills' 1-yard line, a fumble gave the ball back to the Wolverines.
But East Mills couldn’t capitalize as their drive stalled at the Cowboys' nine when Bolton's fourth-down pass sailed incomplete.
Sidney, however, could not seize the momentum. After gaining eight yards on three plays a shanked punt gave East Mills the ball at the Cowboy 26.
Irwin's crew would need just three plays to take advantage when Bolton tossed his fourth touchdown of the game when he found Schafer for a 23 yard scoring strike. After another missed conversion attempt, East Mills led 26-14 with 6:49 to go.
But Sidney wouldn't go away. The Cowboys needed just four plays to answer when quarterback Brandon Anderson found tailback Tristan Crouch for a 20 yard touchdown. The Cowboys converted their two-point conversion to trail 26-22 with a little over five minutes remaining.
On the ensuing drive East Mills drove to the Cowboy 25 but the drive stalled once again on fourth down.
Taking the ball from their own 32, Anderson found Brendon Hardy for 11 yards on a third-and-nine. But that's all the further the Cowboys would get after Crouch was stuffed for no gain, an Anderson incompletion and a sack by Wolverine middle linebacker Daniel Duysen set them back to their own 36 yard line. Anderson's fourth down throw would sail out of Hardy's reach.
“This was a fantastic game,” said Irwin, whose team improved to 4-1 on the season and 3-0 in the district. “Both teams played very hard. We had a little bit of weather but I still thought Sidney and us never gave up and it just came down to the end where we just seemed like we had one more play.”
Irwin thought that “one more play” just might have come on Duysen's third-down sack.
“That was a big play for us. I hadn't blitzed the middle linebacker all night and I thought it was good time to take a shot and Daniel Duysen came through with a big play for us,” he said.
All game the Wolverine defense battled, bottling up the Cowboy's top weapon by holding tailback Tristan Crouch, who ran for 253 yards and six touchdowns in a 54-14 win over Farragut last Friday, to just 59 yards on 12 carries. Take out Crouch's 23 yard scamper on the Cowboys' first play from scrimmage and the senior gained 36 yards on his 11 other carries.
It was the game's other tailback, Wolverine senior Nathan Day that stole the show. The 5-foot-10, 175 pounder carried a season-high 26 times for 129 tough yards. Irwin said Day owes a lot of his success to his typically hard running style and a halftime adjustment in blocking schemes by the offensive line.
“We knew it was going to be tough to get the run game going because Sidney has a good defensive line and we just had to fix a few things with our blocking scheme (at halftime),” said Irwin. “And they still did a good job stopping our run game, we didn't get the big plays we normally do.”
The Wolverines finished with 423 total yards, including 253 on the ground. Bolton was 13-for-23 for 170 yards with four touchdown tosses. The senior also ran for 75 yards on 13 carries.
Sidney finished with 228 total yards.
EM 06 08 06 06 – 26
S 06 08 00 08 – 22
EM - Jake Bolton to Daniel Duysen, 27 yard pass (conversion failed).
S - Brandon Anderson to Tyler Inman, 11 yard pass (kick blocked).
S - Triston Crouch, 2 yard run (conversion good).
EM - Bolton to Duysen, 7 yard pass (conversion good).
EM - Bolton to Luke Schafer, 3 yard pass (conversion failed).
EM - Bolton to Schafer, 23 yard pass (conversion failed).
S - Anderson to Crouch, 20 yard pass (conversion good).