TOUGH RUNNING

East Jackson's Nino Brown is stopped by a group of Monroe Area defenders Friday night in the Eagles' 56-7 loss to the Purple Hurricanes. 

MONROE — The turnovers mounted up for East Jackson, and so did the points for Monroe Area.

The Eagles (3-3, 0-2 Region 8-AAA) gave the ball away seven times in a 56-7 loss Friday (Oct. 4) on the road to the defending region champions. Monroe Area converted four of those turnovers into touchdown drives and picked up a defensive score on another. 

“We’ve got to capitalize in the situations we were in, and they made plays and we didn’t, and that’s the bottom line,” East Jackson coach Cameron Pettus said. “That’s a very, very talented program, and they do a great job over there.”

Seven different Purple Hurricanes (4-2, 1-1 Region 8-AAA) scored touchdowns to build a 56-0 lead late in the fourth quarter before the Eagles found the end zone on their final drive.

Four of the Eagles’ first-half drives ended in turnovers as East Jackson trailed 42-0 at the break. East Jackson committed three more turnovers in the second half, the last of which was a fumble the Purple Hurricanes covered in the end zone for a touchdown.

Running the ball was also a challenge for the Eagles. 

East Jackson was limited to 71 yards rushing on the night, 70 of which came on the final drive of the game in mop-up time.

“That was the hardest (defensive) front we’ve seen, trying to run the ball, all year,” Pettus said. “That’s how talented they are up front, the front three, and they were very good.”

Monroe Area showed off its offensive weapons, too, rolling up 519 total yards (311 rushing, 208 passing). 

Zariahm Blade scored a pair of first-quarter touchdowns for the Purple Hurricanes, running in from a yard out and later catching a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback, Selatian Straughter. Straughter then scored on a 3-yard run in the second quarter followed by a pair of 1-yard runs from Scooby Partee and Mason Byron. Straughter found D.D. Hendricks for an 8-yard touchdown pass with just five seconds left before the half, capping a high-scoring second quarter.

Straughter finished 12-of-16 passing for 208 yards and two touchdowns. He added 91 yards on the ground on 19 carries. 

Clay Branch, who finished with 117 yards on 10 carries, rumbled in from 19 yards out in the third quarter, and the Purple Hurricanes tacked on their defensive score in the fourth quarter to complete the rout.

East Jackson drove 70 yards for its only points of the night in the waning minutes of the game. Running exclusively out of the “wildcat” formation, the Eagles called on Nino Brown to carry the ball seven times, the last of which was a one-yard score with just four seconds left. Brown finished with 75 yards on 18 carries. 

Pettus said the team tinkered with running the wildcat this past week in practice. 

"We looked at it this week and we were like, 'Hey, now's the time. Let's look at everything,'" he said. "So we looked at everything in the second half ... We finished with 'Nino-cat' there — that's what we called it — and he did a great job."

Pettus said the team would use the loss “as a learning process.”

“They did a good job and they made plays out in space, and we didn’t capitalize, and that was the bottom line,” he said. “You can tell they had some really good players out there. Credit to that team. But I am very proud of how we responded the second half. I know it wasn’t easy. Nobody likes to get punched in the mouth like that in the first half, but, like I said, I’m very proud of our guys, and I love them.”

East Jackson is off next week before traveling to Franklin County Oct. 18.

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