Eastside advances to regional semifinals

Eastside defenders stop North Marion's Elija Walton in the Rams' 27-14 win on Friday. (Photo by Seth Johnson)

If there is one thing that first-year Eastside football coach Harold ‘Gator’ Hoskins remembered about his playing days at his alma mater, it was winning.

That continues to rub off on this year’s orange and green team as the Rams never trailed in a 27-14 win against visiting North Marion (Citra) in an FHSAA Class 2S-Region 2 Quarterfinal at Citizens Field on Friday night.

“It was a great win for the guys,” said Hoskins, who led the Rams to their first district title in 10 years a couple of weeks ago. “I’m excited for those boys, but we’re going to put our head down and go back to work on Monday.”

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The offense set the tone early, but it was the defense that came up with game-changing plays late.

Eastside (8-2), the No. 5 seed, led 21-7 at the half but the No. 4 seed Colts (7-4), who were ranked 11th in Class 2S by MaxPreps, closed the gap to 21-14 on a 47-yard drive which was capped on a 2-yard quarterback keeper by A.J. Cussins with 3:01 to play in the third quarter.

Eastside's Claude Whitford sacks North Marion's AJ Cussins .
Photo by Seth Johnson Eastside’s Claude Whitford sacks North Marion’s A.J. Cussins.

That came after the Rams failed to convert on a 4th-and-2 play near midfield on their first possession of the second half.

The Colts got the football back and appeared to cut the deficit to one at 21-20 on a 12-yard touchdown run by Jacob Merritt with 10:09 to play. However, North Marion was flagged for holding.

Then, on 4th-and-19 on the 20-yard line, Cussins’ pass in the end zone was deflected away by senior Dakota Richardson and the Rams took over on downs.

But there was still hope for the visitors as North Marion got the ball back at their own 20-yard line down 21-14 with 5:52 remaining.

The Rams’ defense rose to the occasion again with another big play, as senior Jeremiah Williams ripped the ball away from a Colts wide receiver for an interception.

“The defense has been playing great all year and we’ve been leaning on those guys,” Hoskins said. “We challenged them in the second half and they played great.”

That led to a 35-yard field goal by senior Caleb Dressel and a 24-14 lead with 4:00 to play.

Eastside's Micah Hudson sprints down the sideline for a 96-yard touchdown run against North Marion on Friday.
Photo by Seth Johnson Eastside’s Micah Hudson sprints down the sideline for a 96-yard touchdown run against North Marion on Friday.

With the game still in doubt, junior Jayden Manns and senior Jacquez Hill put the game on ice with a bone-jarring play as Manns caused a fumble on a hit and Hill recovered at the Colts’ 10-yard line.

“I told Jayden to ‘settle in and you’re going to make a play,’ and that’s exactly what he did and at a crucial time in the game,” Hoskins said.

That led to a 26-yard field goal by Dressel, who also made all three of his extra points, with 1:06 to play in the game, extending the lead to 27-14.

Early on it was the offense that was taking charge.

After a scoreless first quarter, senior Micah Hudson punched it in from a yard out for a 7-0 lead with 11:15 to play in the half.

North Marion answered on a 76-yard touchdown pass from Cussins to Christopher Foster a little over two minutes later, capping a 91-yard drive and tying the game at 7-7.

The Colts seemed to have seized the momentum.

However, despite facing a 3rd-and-37 from their own 4-yard line, Hudson ran left and past the secondary, racing 96 yards down the Eastside sideline for a 14-7 edge just two minutes later.

“The guys wanted to come out and get the win for the team, and hopefully change the culture,” said Hudson, who was recognized as the Sonic Drive-In Player of the Game after rushing for over 100 yards in the first half.

Eastside began one final drive of the half at its own 31-yard line and marched down the field in just over two minutes, scoring on a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Holden Johnson to sophomore wide receiver Daijon Johnson for a 21-7 lead with just 25 seconds left in the half.

With the win, the Rams will travel to top seed Bradford (Starke) next Friday. The Tornadoes defeated Crescent City, 48-0, in the other regional quarterfinal. The Rams fell to Bradford, 28-0, on Sept. 17.

Eastside players celebrate Daijon Johnson's (13) diving touchdown catch in the second quarter on Friday.
Photo by Seth Johnson Eastside players celebrate Daijon Johnson’s (13) diving touchdown catch in the second quarter on Friday.

“We’re back,” Hudson said. “We have a reason to be back and we’re going to keep executing.”

Friday results

FHSAA Regional Quarterfinals

Class 1R-Region 3

No. 4 Madison County 36, No. 5 Fort White 0

No. 3 Lafayette (Mayo) 35, No. 6 Branford 7

Class 1R-Region 4

No. 3 Chiefland 49, No. 6 Newberry 7

Class 2S-Region 1

No. 2 Suwannee (Live Oak) 39, No. 7 Walton (DeFuniak Springs) 0

Class 2S-Region 2

No. 1 Bradford (Starke) 48, No. 8 Crescent City 0

No. 5 Eastside 27, No. 4 North Marion (Citra) 14

Class 3S-Region 1

No. 3 Columbia (Lake City) 29, No. 6 Lincoln (Tallahassee) 6

Class 4S-Region 1

No. 3 Buchholz 35, No. 6 Pace 34

Saturday, Nov. 12

Class 1R-Region 4
No. 5 Wildwood (7-2) at No. 4 Williston (10-0), 7 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 18

FHSAA Regional Semifinals

Eastside's Antoneo Wilson (2) breaks up a North Marion pass on Friday.
Photo by Seth Johnson Eastside’s Antoneo Wilson (2) breaks up a North Marion pass on Friday.

Class 1R-Region 3

No. 4 Madison County at No. 1 Union County (Lake Butler)

Class 1R-Region 4

No. 3 Chiefland at No. 2 Pahokee

No. 4 Williston/No. 5 Wildwood winner (Saturday) at No. 1 Hawthorne

Class 1S-Region 2

No. 3 P.K. Yonge at No. 2 Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy (Melbourne)

Class 2S-Region 1

No. 3 West Florida at No. 2 Suwannee (Live Oak)

Class 2S-Region 2

No. 5 Eastside at No. 1 Bradford (Starke)

Class 3S-Region 1

No. 3 Columbia (Lake City) at No. 2 Escambia (Pensacola)

Class 4S-Region 1

No. 7 Crestview at No. 3 Buchholz

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