It was an amazing two years for the Thunderbird football team.
Eastern’s season ended Nov. 24 with a 42-14 loss to Pioneer in the Class 1A football championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. It certainly hurts to get thumped, but the Thunderbirds can reflect on some major accomplishments:
The team’s record for the last two seasons combined is 24-4 (85.71 percent).
The T-Birds won the first two sectionals in school history.
This past season saw Eastern win the first regional and the first semistate in school history.
The team averaged 42.7 points per game while holding its opponents to 14.1 points per game. The Thunderbirds also posted three shutouts this year, two of them in Sectional 48.
“You’ll always be remembered,” Eastern head coach Joey Paridaen told the team at the conclusion of the team’s football banquet on Dec.10. “It’s been an incredible ride.”
And so it was.
The team lost twice to Linton last year, once to Lafayette Central Catholic last year, and once to Pioneer this season
Linton and Pioneer both won the Class 1A championships, and Lafayette won in 2016.
All of the losses were lopsided, but the Thunderbirds can take solace from the fact that only the biggest dogs beat them.
The Thunderbirds can take pride that they beat some outstanding teams.
The biggest win outside the post-season would be the Thunderbirds’ Oct.6 35-12 triumph over Linton. That game marked the first time Eastern beat its county rival in football.
Eastern posted three wins over North Central; in fact, the T-Birds were the only team to beat Farmersburg this year. One of those victories was last year’s thriller in the regular season, a 29-28 win on the road in which Andy Drummond’s 35-yard point-after kick proved to be the margin of victory. The third victory was a 33-14 win in the Sectional 48 championship this season.
They won last year’s sectional championship by stopping a two-point conversion attempt with only 1:15 on the clock, beating an 11-1 West Washington team 34-32. Eastern rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to win its first sectional.
The team’s first regional title came with a 42-19 win over 11-2 Fountain Central.
The Thunderbirds reached Lucas Oil Stadium by beating Indianapolis Lutheran 12-8 in the semistate, a wild game that saw the lights go off shortly before halftime. The Thunderbirds trailed 8-0 at halftime, but scored two TDs in the second half and stopped the Saints (11-3) on downs to preserve the victory.
The only shadow on this past season would be the fact that the Indiana High School Athletic Association turned three victories into forfeitures because an academically ineligible player saw action in them. That player also took the field in the Wood Memorial game, but the IHSAA let that win stand because Wood Memorial also used an ineligible player.
I -- and I think many in the Eastern community -- will always regard the Thunderbirds as a 14-1 team, no matter what the official record states. Only Pioneer could stop the Thunderbirds on the field.
Frankly, I think the IHSAA needs to find a new way to punish schools for such infractions. Kids shouldn’t have to pay for the mistakes of adults. Also, Eastern could have beaten Edinburgh and Wood Memorial with me playing quarterback; the Thunderbirds were that much better than their opponents.
Several players told me they thought they were leaving a big legacy for future teams to build on. I would say the future looks bright for next year. The Thunderbirds may not make the state finals again, but they should be competitive with most foes they’ll face.
Returning players include Zach Terry who led the team with 138 tackles and was named the team’s Best Linebacker. He also recorded one sack and one fumble recovery. Levi Southern, the team’s second-leading tackler with 117, will also return. Southern also saw limited action at fullback.
Several experienced lineman return. Garrett Vest and Gage Baker both earned varsity letters this season, and the Thunderbirds will also have the services of Dakota Vaught, the team’s Defensive Most Valuable PLayer who also saw action the line.
Running backs Blayne Campbell, 66 carries for 567 yards and 10 touchdowns, and Nick Fox, 75-468 and five TDs, will both be back next season. Campbell received the team’s Best Offensive back trophy at the banquet.
Sophomore J.C. Lewis saw some action at quarterback.
Jaden Evans was one of the team’s top four receivers with 29 receptions for 471 yards and six touchdowns. He also played defensive back.
Other players who saw action at defensive back were Quin Miller and Jaysce Skinner, both of whom picked off two passes. Miller, the junior varsity’s Offensive Most Valuable PLayer, also rushed 159 yards for the varsity.
You certainly can’t overlook kicker Andy Drummond who converted 76-86 point-after kicks and made three field goals, one of them a school-record 40-yarder.
Eastern should also benefit from a JV team that compiled a 6-2 record in 2017. The coaches named Jarrett Long as the JV’s Most Promising Underclassman and he, too, saw some action on the A team.
“They did a great job,” Paridaen said “My No. 1 priority when I got here was to create a JV program.”