NEW PORT RICHEY — This could be the start of something bigger.
On literally an electric Friday night, one in which inclement weather delayed the game by about a half hour, East Lake found itself. Over the final 26 minutes of rain-soaked play against host Mitchell, the Eagles commanded the ball behind transfer running back Luke Yoder and substitute quarterback Caleb Coburn, added a bend-but-don’t-break defense and emerged with a satisfying 17-6 victory.
“I love everybody on this team,” said Yoder, who moved over to East Lake after a 1,600-yard junior year with Palm Harbor University. “We just have a special bond and that allows us to be a brotherhood and play together well.”
Carrying the ball with both speed and patience, Yoder rolled up 148 yards on 22 carries and was a key cog in a three-possession, game-ending run where the Eagles racked up 36 plays, 226 yards and the final 10 points of the contest.
“Last year, I had to wait on blocks, wait on holes, and that allows me to do the same this year,” Yoder said. “It taught me to be patient and have good vision.”
Coburn, who stepped in at quarterback last spring for the injured Jake Bechtel, showed some savvy decision-making as he contributed 125 yards of offense while finding the end zone twice on the ground.
After punting on its first three possessions, Mitchell (1-1) rode the arm and feet of quarterback Chris Ferrini (89 total yards) to drive 73 yards in 7½ minutes and pull within a point of East Lake. With Ferrini either passing or running on eight of the 12 plays, the senior co-captain slithered 5 yards to pay dirt with 2:26 left in the second quarter to get the Mustangs back in the hunt.
But that is where the Eagles (1-1) began to soar.
With just one timeout, East Lake rode Yoder’s determined running and a pair of third-down conversions to get deep into Mitchell territory. Coburn curled off right tackle and rambled 13 yards untouched to the end zone for touchdown No. 2 to boost the lead to 14-6 with 11 ticks left in the half.
Shaking off a turnover to start the second half, the Eagles took advantage of athletic defense from junior Ben Padinske (six tackles, two for loss, batted pass) and senior Kaleb Rosiek (five tackles, forced fumble) to limit the Mustangs to just two second-half possessions and a missed field goal.
Meanwhile, Yoder and Coburn flipped the switch again, rolling up chunks of soggy turf over an eight-minute drive that ended with a 27-yard Jacob Lawrence field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter for the eventual winning margin.
“I’m proud of the guys — they played hard and got the win — but we’ve got to get better at the little things if we’re going to make a playoff run in the state of Florida,” said veteran East Lake coach Bob Hudson. “Our defense made a couple of stands, but then we get a few silly penalties (12 total 105 yards; Mitchell was flagged 11 times for 81 yards).”
The main mission for coach Andy Schmitz and the Mustangs is to find the fire that allowed the squad to win the first three head-to-head matchups.
“East Lake was more physical, more disciplined … they probably practiced better than us, too,” he said. “Hopefully, where this was a non-district game that didn’t hurt us too much, that this will be a wake-up call on how much harder we have to play.”