CHARLOTTESVILLE — There is an adage in sports: the bigger the game, the smaller the margin of error.
The Eastern Hancock football team found out just how painful the adage can be Friday night, suffering a 7-0 setback in a Sectional 38 semifinal against visiting Triton Central.
“It’s tough. We are proud of the kids. They gave a great effort, and this is just a tough one to lose. We had some turnovers because of kids trying to make plays, and that happens. We had some opportunities, but it is just so tough. We were getting better each week,” said Eastern Hancock coach Jim O’Hara, who saw his team finish the season 5-6.
With the win, Triton Central 7-4 advances to the sectional final against Milan, who dispatched Indianapolis Howe.
The Royals had both opportunities and turnovers in a game that turned out to be a defensive struggle between the two teams, which used to be Mid-Indiana Football Conference rivals before Triton Central joined the Indiana Crossroads Conference.
The two teams combined for four turnovers in the first half, and the only score of the game came in part due to Triton Central’s defense.
Following a Devin Denny fumble, which was recovered by Triton Central’s Aaron Steele, the Tigers put together a drive that ate four minutes off the clock and was benefited by a 20-yard pass from quarterback Jordan Crouse to tight end Jacen Lands to put Triton Central into the red zone.
Two plays later, Triton Central running back Mason Durrett hit pay dirt, putting the Tigers ahead 7-0 following a successful point-after attempt by Rachel Dewey with just over a minute left in the first half.
Eastern Hancock struck first in the turnover battle, as defensive back Payton Wilkinson stepped in front of Lands to pull down a pass from Crouse.
Moments later, however, the Royals would turn the ball over as Lewis was intercepted by Steele.
Triton Central’s ensuing offensive possession was stopped by a crucial defensive stand by Eastern Hancock on fourth down.
The Eastern Hancock defense would come up big early in the second quarter, as Devyn Brinson would record an interception to end a potential Triton Central scoring drive.
Eastern Hancock’s best scoring threat of the half came early in the second quarter as Lewis hit Denny on a pass play and Denny was forced out of bounds just shy of the end zone, however, the play was negated by a block in the back.
“We had opportunities, but the bottom line is you have to finish. Give Triton Central credit, they finished. Our defense was outstanding, and I am just proud of the kids,” O’Hara said.
Eastern Hancock would take the opening kickoff to start the second half and march down the field, as A.J. Muegge would notch a 20-yard run to set up a first and goal opportunity from the Triton Central 10-yard line.
The drive would stall, however, as a pass from Lewis to Wilkerson was ruled incomplete as Wilkerson made the catch out of bounds in the back of the end zone.
Despite that, Eastern Hancock kept its poise late in the contest, stopping Triton Central on a critical fourth-and-one at the Royals’ 14-yard line, getting the ball back with just under six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The Royals appeared to have tied the game up at 7-7 as Denny took a delayed handoff and scampered 50 yards to the end zone. However, the play was negated due to a block in the back penalty.
Eastern Hancock would get another crack at scoring thanks to a personal foul against Triton Central, but the scoring drive ended when Steele came up with his second interception of the contest, allowing Triton Central to ice the game.
Despite the season ending loss, O’Hara noted it is something the Royals can build on heading into the offseason.
“We got a lot of experience with a lot of guys. We were green at a lot of spots at the beginning of the season. We will miss our seniors, and they should not be ashamed of how they played. It is just tough because you spend so much time with them starting in June. I feel bad for our kids,” O’Hara said.