Royals rise to occasion after slow start

For The Daily Reporter

MILAN – Facing its third long road trip, a steady rain and a short week of practice, No. 4-ranked Eastern Hancock had every excuse available to finally have a letdown Friday night. Instead, the Royals beat the Milan Indians 26-14 to improve to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the Mid-Indiana Football Conference.

“We have only practiced in the rain once, and coming off a big win last week I think we just came out a bit sluggish tonight,” Royals coach Jim O’Hara said afterward.

Both teams struggled to get going in the first quarter because of the steady drizzle, and the teams headed into the second quarter still tied at 0-0. However, following a 23-yard punt return by Caleb Byers, the Royals capitalized on a short field to take a 7-0 on a 2-yard quarterback sneak by sophomore Jarett Lewis.

Lewis, who finished with 132 yards passing and 45 yards rushing, shined again minutes later, eluding multiple pass rushers on a third and 9 from the 12-yard line to pick up a first down, and he followed up that run with an end-around to give the Royals a 14-0 lead going into halftime.

“The rain was really affecting (Jarett’s) grip,” O’Hara said. “But he made great decisions with his feet to offset that.”

Milan’s first possession of the half yielded the team’s most impressive play, when Indian quarterback Blane Beck lofted a perfect pass to Zac Minnich for a 47-yard touchdown to get the Indians within eight points. That is as close as the team would get, however. Until scoring with 11 seconds left, Eastern Hancock was looking at its fourth consecutive game of allowing seven points or fewer.

“It’s our second year of running the defensive system, plus we returned a lot of experience,” O’Hara said. “I think that’s why we’ve had good success these first few games.”

Eastern Hancock faced a first and goal from the 1-yard line late in the third quarter and into the fourth. But a big tackle on an option by Cole Cochard helped the Royals stop Milan in its tracks with 11:32 remaining.

Eastern Hancock then turned to senior fullback Matt Bowman, who finished the game with 90 yards rushing, to ice the game. Bowman was handed the ball nine consecutive times, culminating in a touchdown to put Eastern Hancock up 26-6 after taking nearly 10 minutes off the board and sealing the victory.