After a slow start, Eastside's offense erupted for 29 points in the second half Friday night at Evans Memorial Stadium, where the Eagles (5-2 overall, 1-2 Region 8-AAAA, Sub-region B) beat Heritage 36-29.
Quarterback Justin Wray led the Eagles by taking charge of his offense when he found his team trailing 15-7 at halftime. After the break, Wray rushed for two touchdowns and threw for one.
"Great players make great plays in great situations," Eastside head coach Rick Hurst said of his quarterback. "He's the kind of kid who wants the ball in his hands when the game is on the line, and I want the ball in his hands when it's on the line."
Wray got it going from the first play of the second half when he ran a keeper from the Patriot 15-yard line into the end zone, following a botched Heritage snap on its punt. Kicker Yanrick Tinker added the extra point to cut the lead, 15-14.
However, Heritage (2-5, 0-3) answered quickly as Mikel Hunter took the ensuing kickoff 88 yards up the right sideline for a touchdown. Kicker Kelly Grant nailed the extra point to increase the Patriots lead to 22-14.
The Eagles drove the ball 65 yards, entirely on the ground, on their very next possession that was capped when running back Larenzo Echols plunged into the end zone from three yards out. Eastside then converted for two points when Wray scrambled to his left, tying the game 22-22.
The Eagle defense forced the Patriots to punt on the fourth play of their next drive. Jarod White caught the punt at Eastside's own 35 yard line, made a spin-move to split two Patriot defenders and then found room to run up the right sideline, taking the ball to the Patriot 16. Johnny Norrington carried the ball four yards to the 11, and Wray scored on a quarterback keeper up the middle at 2:50 in the third quarter.
It gave the Eagles their first lead since 8:44 in the second quarter. Tinker added the extra point to make it 28-22.
Wray added the final touchdown when he found Andrico Bailey in the end zone from 39 yards out with 6:45 remaining in the fourth quarter. Wray and Bailey also hooked up in the first quarter, when Wray found Bailey wide-open in the end zone for a 26-yard strike.
Wray finished the day completing 6-of-11 passes for 119 yards and added 94 yards on 11 carries. Bailey caught four passes for 117 yards, and Broderick Alexander gained 47 yards on six carries.
In fact, Eastside totaled 352 total yards to Heritage's 269.
"We were making too many mental mistakes early on offense and defense," Wray said. "In the second half we limited those mistakes and came out with the win."
Heritage would add one more touchdown that was set up when quarterback Kenny Seabolt found Zane Barefield over the middle for a 36-yard completion that would set up a 4-yard touchdown from Seabolt to Hunter.
Grant added the extra point to make the score 36-29, but with 1:10 left in the game it was too little, too late, as Eastside took a knee to run the clock out on its final possession.
Seabolt completed 11-of-23 passes for 211 yards including two touchdown tosses. The first, an 80-yard bomb to Hunter, put the Patriots up 15-7 with 3:43 left in the first half.
"We didn't come out ready to play and Heritage took it to us in the first half," Hurst said. "I was embarrassed; I challenged (our team's) manhood and told them if they didn't want it any more than that - I put it on the seniors, and they came out ready to play."
Hurst was much more pleased with the results of the second half.
"My hat's off to Heritage," Hurst said. "They played us really hard. It's a shame someone had to lose this game, but I'm glad we won it."
Heritage will visit Salem on Friday. Meanwhile, the Eagles are back in action Friday as they host crosstown rival Alcovy.