GOSHEN — There are turnarounds and then there are turnarounds.
Just one season after a winless high school football campaign, the Fairfield Falcons find themselves playing for the Class 2A, Sectional 35 championship Friday night at Eastside in Butler.
Fairfield has a 6-5 record and Eastside 9-2.
The Falcons lost four of their final five regular season games, but have rebounded with two straight wins in the playoffs. The Blazers lost two of three to start the season and enter the Fairfield contest with an eight-game winning streak.
Second-year Fairfield coach Matt Thacker shared some of the reasons for the vast improvement shown by the Falcons this season.
“We started offseason lifting on November 6th of 2018. Our focus was to make us bigger, faster and stronger and it has paid off in many aspects, but we also began to get more kids involved and the weight room was the catalyst to that. The weight room breeds confidence and when you commit to the weight room you only have one way to go, and that was up,” the coach said. “Furthermore, our summer workouts and scrimmages were pretty well attended and provided our kids with valuable opportunities against some pretty good competition. However, we still have a long way to go, but at the same time you have to admire what these young men have done for themselves, their team, their school and their community. Fairfield is a special place.”
Fairfield won its lone sectional title in 2009, defeating Bremen 28-27. Eastside has never won a sectional championship.
A win by the Falcons against Eastside means Fairfield would host either No. 9 Eastern (Greentown) or No. 8 Eastbrook in the regional.
The Falcons and the Blazers have not played since a 55-28 Fairfield win on Sept. 29, 2013.
This will be the 35th meeting between the schools in recent years with each program having 17 wins.
So far this season, the Blazers have wins over Heritage 44-0, Churubusco 42-14, Garrett 28-8, Prairie Heights 42-7, Fremont 48-12, Central Noble 28-7, Angola 14-13, Woodlan 21-0 and Fort Wayne Luers 13-6. Losses were to Adams Central 21-14 and West Noble 38-19.
“Eastside is a very gritty group that plays solid football for 48 minutes,” Thacker said. “Their quarterback (Laban Davis) is a sophomore and he does a great job of running their offense. They also some other young guys and have been able to win close games with them, again it comes back to the grit they play with. Coach (Todd) Mason is doing a phenomenal job with his kids as they play fast and physical in all three phases.”
Mason is 21-11 in his third year at the school.
Eastside averages 28.5 points per game on offense and yields 11.5 on defense.
The Blazers have rushed for 2,087 yards on 414 carries (5.0 average). Davis has 579 yards on 110 attempts (5.3), junior Matthew Firestone 588 on 121 (4.9), freshman Dax Holman 383 on 76 (5.0) and senor Ethan Farnsworth 375 on 86 (4.4).
Davis is 90-of-148 (60.8 percent) passing for 1,310 yards. He has 16 TDs and nine interceptions.
Junior Wade Miller has 28 pass receptions for 449 yards, senior Lanie Burns 26 for 421 and sophomore Dylan Bredemeyer 24 for 305.
“Eastside will spread you out defensively and want to run the ball, but are not afraid to throw the ball down the field or with underneath routes,” Thacker said. “In the special teams they are solid and do not make mistakes. Personally, they remind me of Angola and Churubusco.”
Leaders for the Blazers’ defense are senior Carson Evans 59 tackles and 33 assists, junior Lane Cleckner 55 and 29, Holman 42 and 20, senior Mike Geiger 40 and 15 and Burns 38 and 21.
“They will want seven in the box as much as possible, but will vary on how they will align. Angola and Churubusco still come to mind as schematically they are similar and all three teams play extremely hard and all three are very well coached,” Thacker shared.
The Falcons have rushed for 1,448 yards this season. Junior quarterback Cory Lantz leads the team with 482 yards on 129 carries (3.7 average), junior Dalton Cripe 272 on 38 (7.2), junior Quinn Kitson 272 on 51 (5.33) and junior Carson Abramson 240 on 76 (3.2).
Lantz has completed 39-of-72 passes (54.2 percent) for 720 yards. He has seven touchdown passes and four interceptions.
Senor Nolin Sharick is the top receiver with 13 catches for 328 yards, followed by Cripe six for 143 and Kitson eight for 140.
Leaders on defense are junior Colton Fisher 59 tackles and 18 assists, Abramson 40 and 11, Sharick 26 and 10, senor Peyton Hendrix 17 and six, Kitson 17 and three, senior Jonathan Ortiz 16 and five, Cripe 13 and eight, Lantz 13 and six, junior Brayden Short 13 and two and Nathan Klinedinst 11 and eight.
The Falcons scored an average of 19.5 points per game and allow 19.5 on defense.
Lantz lead the team with nine TDs, Sharick has four and Cripe two.
The coach shared the keys to the contest for the Falcons.
“We have to win the turnover battle. We have to limit big plays in all three phases. Most importantly, we have to continue to believe in one another and play Falcon Football,” Thacker said.