EAST LAKE — For so many games this season, East Lake has relied on its offense — mainly the strong arm of quarterback Pete DiNovo — to win games.
But with the offense held in check by Vero Beach on Friday night, the Eagles came up with another way to win .
East Lake forced six Vero Beach turnovers, including five fumbles, to defeat the Indians 29-7 in the Class 8A region semifinal. The Eagles (11-1) will travel to Orlando Dr. Phillips next week.
“Defense played very well,” East Lake coach Bob Hudson said. “That’s a good team over there, so to force those turnovers was a key.”
Not only did East Lake cause five fumbles, but it was able to turn them into points.
Vero Beach (9-2) made the first big play of the game when quarterback Dalton Stokes hit Will Dawkins on a post pass. Dawkins split two defenders and raced 80 yards to make it 7-0 Indians in the first quarter. The touchdown came one play after East Lake kicker
Daniel LaCamera missed a 49-yard field goal.
Then the East Lake defense took over. Early in the second quarter, Treyvon Mason-Levels sacked Stokes and caused a fumble.
Defensive end George Campbell recovered the loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown. The extra point failed.
After a 36-yard LaCamera field goal made it 9-7, Devin Abraham recovered a botched punt and gave the Eagles the ball on the Vero Beach 36. Seven plays later, a 36-yard field goal by LaCamera made it 12-7.
It was 15-7 at the end of the half when Vero Beach receiver Jamario Lambert fumbled after making a catch. That gave East Lake the ball at the Vero Beach 29 with five seconds left. LaCamera nailed the 36-yard field goal.
“Turning those fumbles into points was big,” Hudson said. “Even if they were field goals. This was one of our better defensive efforts.”
It got even better for East Lake’s defense in the third quarter. With Vero Beach driving down to the East Lake 6, running back Dravious Wright fumbled the exchange with Stokes. The ball bounced right up to Campbell, who ran 95 yards untouched.
“I was just on the outside and the ball popped up out of nowhere,” Campbell said. “I knew I had to make a play. There was nobody out there so I just had to turn on the juice.”
East Lake’s final score was courtesy of the fifth and final Vero Beach fumble. This time Sean Paul botched a punt and East Lake’s John Lepper recovered on the Vero Beach 19-yard line. Three plays later, Weston Fordham turned that into a 4-yard TD run to make it 29-7.
The game fittingly ended when Abraham picked off a Stokes pass at the 5-yard line.
East Lake had two defensive touchdowns and only one on offense. DiNovo still had a good night, completing 19-of-33 passes for 191 yards. And most importantly for the Eagles, they had no turnovers.
“They are a good offensive team so we knew we had to make things happen,” Campbell said. “We put some pressure on them and made things happen. We’re going to have to keep doing that next week.”
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.