After reaching the south state championship in Class 1A last year despite being on the road for all three playoff games, the East Marion Eagles will get to host a playoff game Nov. 8 as Region 8-2A champs after outlasting North Forrest 8-0 on the road Oct. 24.
“That’s a great feat to be able to win the district,” head coach Kevin Jackson said. “It’s been a big deal around here the last year having a home playoff game, and to be able to win the district and have that is a big deal to East Marion this year.”
The victory was East Marion’s sixth straight win and the fifth time during the winning streak that its defense rose to the occasion when it mattered most. The Eagles (7-2, 4-0) had a goal-line stand late in the third quarter and came up with a clutch sack by Carlos Stubbs on the final play of the game as North Forrest was attempting a Hail Mary from the East Marion 45.
“We’ve been bend but don’t break all year. Credit to our kids, they played an awesome game. To be able to keep North Forrest out of the end zone in those situations on the goal line there in the third quarter and right there at the end of the game to come up with a big play to seal the deal, that’s huge for our kids,” Jackson said. “They’ve been relentless all year and played for 48 minutes. When you do that and think you can win, there’s a good chance you will.”
The Eagles are on a bye for the final week of the regular season and will take on the No. 4 seed from Region 7, which will likely be either Bogue Chitto (4-6) or West Lincoln (5-5). Jackson said the bye week is coming at a good time to get some guys healthy and to return to the fundamentals to improve from within heading into the postseason.
After forcing a three-and-out on the opening drive against North Forrest, the Eagles marched 64 yards on 12 straight running plays for the game’s only touchdown. Jadarrius Mallard punctuated the drive with a 6-yard score on a toss sweep. East Marion converted the two-point try on a playaction pass to take the early 8-0 lead.
On the heels of another North Forrest punt, East Marion’s offense was on the move again thanks to a great leaping grab by sophomore Amere Woodham from Devin Daniels for 43 yards. But a sack and a penalty forced the Eagles into a 3rd-and-37, and Daniels was intercepted on a deep ball that was essentially the equivalent of a punt. Neither offense moved the ball the rest of the half, and Woodham intercepted a pass on the final play before going to halftime.
Late in the third quarter, North Forrest finally gained some momentum offensively with a good mix of run and pass and had the ball at the East Marion 1-yard line on 2nd-and-goal. A false start backed up North Forrest before Stubbs batted up a receiver screen that was actually caught by North Forrest’s quarterback for a loss of seven yards.North Forrest then rushed for no gain and had a false start, forcing it to throw into the end zone on 4th-and-goal from the 18. Woodham read a seam route the entire way and came up with his second pick of the game on a jump ball at the goal line to end the threat.
“(Amere’s) really stepped up this year,” Jackson said. “We (had to fill) that role of (Flenard) McLin at receiver, and he’s been that guy. He’s been that guy we’ve gone to in the air, and he’s come up with some big plays the past three or four weeks.”
The Eagles were able to milk some clock on their ensuing drive with two first downs before being forced to punt. East Marion’s defense then stepped up once again to force a turnover on downs and gave the Eagles the ball back at the North Forrest 41.
Daniels, Mallard and Jones each had runs of more than 10 yards and got the Eagles to the North Forrest 13 before turning the ball over on downs to set up North Forrest’s final drive.
From its own 19, North Forrest picked up 39 yards on its first play of the possession on a wheel route out of the backfield to get into Eagles territory.
Two plays later North Forrest quarterback Tyrell Pollard scrambled to the East Marion 31 to pick up a first down. However, North Forrest was called for an offensive pass interference on the next play before Stubbs’ sack ended the threat.
The Eagles had to turn to Mallard to lead them on the ground with Latral Waller out, and the freshman rose to the occasion 71 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
“He’s a good little running back. We’ve given him some opportunities throughout the entire year, and he’s gotten better and improved over the year. He had a really good game running the ball,” Jackson said. “Hopefully we’ll see even bigger and better things from him to come.”
Daniels had 82 yards rushing on 14 carries and 53 yards passing on 3-of-9 passing.
Woodham had three catches for 58 yards and two interceptions on defense.