Vikings fall to Easton in regular season finale
Strand runs for two TDs, returns interception for another to lead Easton
Easton 42 Cambridge-SD 21 CAMBRIDGE — Seventeen points. Had Easton High’s football team managed to find 17 more points this season, it would have been making its third playoff appearance in four years this Friday.
So while Class 2A East rivals Kent Island, North Caroline and Queen Anne’s County spend this week preparing for next Friday’s regional postseason openers, the Warriors will be home, perhaps mulling over the idea of how 17 more points would have given them one more week of play.
Maybe that’s why Easton treated Friday night’s annual clash with Cambridge-South Dorchester as its playoff, and played like a team that was fed up with near misses.
“This was absolutely our playoff,” head coach Matt Griffith said after his Warriors had repeatedly answered the quick-striking Vikings during a 42-21 season-ending victory. “We told the kids, ‘This is our playoff. It’s the Easton-Cambridge rivalry game, and we need to make sure that we left a stamp for the seniors tonight on who they were and the legacy they did, even though we’re out.’”
While Cambridge-SD (7-3) enters next Friday’s 1A East playoff field as the second seed and hosts No. 3 Per- ryville (5-5), Viking head coach Jake Coleman walked away from his home turf impressed by the Warriors on multiple levels.
“They may be the best team not to make the playoffs since the old eight-team format,” Coleman said of Easton, which finished 7-3 and one spot away from a playoff berth. “They played outstanding. They were more consistently better at the point of attack than we were.
“There were times on defense we got numerous stops,” Coleman added. “But we had them on fourth down I think two times, or maybe three times, and their players made plays.”
The Warriors also had a response every time Cambridge-SD scored and tried to swing momentum its way.
Easton built a 14-0 firstquarter lead, starting with linebacker Zack Strand deflecting a Tyler Harding pass, catching the ball for an interception, and racing 75 yards for a touchdown with 6 minutes, 20 seconds left in the period.
“That play that Zack made in the first quarter, that’s a defensive-player-of-theyear type of play,” Coleman said. “I’ve seen him on film all year long. I’ve seen him make just a lot of plays this year. He’s just had an outstanding season.”
Tahjiere Nixon then latched on to a short Mason Ledford pass and sifted down the sideline for an 18yard touchdown play with 1:21 remaining in the period.
Just 15 seconds after Emma Skoglund’s second consecutive point-after kick gave the Warriors a 14-0 bulge, Harding (7 of 15, 211 yards, three touchdowns) connected with Taj Molock for a 71-yard scoring strike, that, along with Harding’s extra-point kick, trimmed the Viking deficit in half.
But Cambridge-SD wouldn’t get any closer.
After a scoreless second quarter, Cambridge-SD appeared to have a chance to shave that margin even more, when Koby Jones intercepted Ledford (19 of 28, 169 yards, two touchdowns) on the second play of the third quarter. But the pick was negated by a holding call on the Vikings.
Ten plays later, on fourthand-eight, Ledford lofted a pass near the corner of the end zone that wideout Matt Farrow made a leaping catch on for a 19-yard touchdown. Skoglund’s extra point made it 21-7 with 8:13 left in the period.
Cambridge-SD put together one of its best drives on its next possession, moving from its 40 to the Warrior 14. But on fourth-and-one, the Vikings’ outstanding running back, Tre Lake, who finished with 141 yards rushing on 27 carries, lost his footing in the backfield for a 3-yard loss.
Easton then began feeding Strand. The senior running back, who carried 18 times for 113 yards and a pair of scores, slanted off right tackle for 22 yards. Five plays later, Strand again found room on the right side, leaped over a defender and tore down the sideline for a 42-yard touchdown romp that — with Skoglund’s PAT — extended the Warrior cushion to 28-7 with 3:22 left in the third.
Only 10 seconds slipped off the clock before Cambridge-SD was back on the board, as Harding hit the comet-like C.J. Brummell for a 55-yard scoring pass, then tacked on the extra point.
Cambridge-SD forced an Easton three-and-out and regained possession on its 35 with 1:14 remaining in the third quarter. But any idea for a serious comeback was damaged when freshman Thatcher Knox intercepted Harding and returned the Viking 24. Less than 2 minutes into the fourth quarter, Strand scored on a 6-yard run that widened Easton’s lead to 34-14.
Cambridge-SD answered with its longest scoring drive of the game — three plays — that ended with Molock catching and jetting 56 yards for a score. Harding’s PAT made it 34-21 with 8:38 left in the game.
Knox recovered the Vikings’ ensuing short kickoff, giving Easton possession at its 43. With Griffith on the sideline, carefully monitoring the time with a stopwatch, the Warriors methodically moved down field to Cambridge-SD’s 26, where on fourth-and-seven, Ledford hit Tahjiere Nixon (6 receptions, 65 yards) for a 21-yard pickup. After Strand was dropped for a 2-yard loss, Ledford wheeled around left end for a 7-yard touchdown run. T.J. Nixon then rolled right and tossed a two-point conversion pass to Farrow for a 42-21 lead.
Notes: Molock finished with five catches for 152 yards and a pair of scores. … Easton was 5 of 14 on third down, but converted 3 of 4 fourth-down conversions. … Cambridge-SD was 4 of 11 on third down, 1 of 5 on fourth.
Cambridge-SD’s Brandon Tibbs (15) back Zack Strand on Friday night. tackles Easton running