Entering Friday night with a must-win situation and a streak of seven consecutive losses to Lakota West, the Lakota East Thunderhawks overcame the adversity associated with being the underdog as they defeated the Firebirds by a score of 33-21.
The win not only secured a playoff berth for the Thunderhawks, but it also would eventually lead to their rivals being mathematically eliminated from the post-season picture. Mother Nature would play a huge factor in this game, but in the end there was raining on the parade for the visitors.
Lakota East (7-3, 5-2) proved on the final Friday night of the regular season that defense and special teams win games. In the opening drive of the second half, the Thunderhawk defense held the Firebird offense to a three-and-out, forcing Lakota West to punt to Lakota East return specialist Rob Harpring, who returned it 56 yards for a touchdown to give the Thunderhawks a 27-14 lead early in the third quarter.
Later in the second half, with Lakota West driving down the field, trailing Lakota East 27-21, Thunderhawk defensive back Nate Mays returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown as the clock hit the two-minute mark in the fourth quarter to seal the victory for Lakota East.
For the Thunderhawk offense, quarterback Eric Eichler played a stellar game, rushing for 71 yards and a touchdown, while also throwing for 82 yards and a touchdown pass to receiver Keith Brady in the second quarter. Running back Will Mahone was the team's leading rusher, gaining 102 yards on 21 carries.
Lakota West (8-2, 5-2) struggled to produce on offense, as well as committing several turnovers. Quarterback Malik Grove recorded a 72-yard rush on his first carry, but finished with 56 yards after being sacked numerous times. Grove completed only eight of his 23 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown, but also threw three interceptions. Mikel Horton carried 15 times for 48 yards and one touchdown with a lost fumble that resulted in a quick touchdown for Lakota East.
With Moeller (6-3, 1-2) scheduled to play Trinity (9-0) Saturday night, we will have to wait and see how the playoff picture shapes up for the Thunderhawks. The official playoff pairings will be released by the OHSAA on Sunday afternoon.