PEARL CITY – On Eastland-Pearl City’s first offensive play from scrimmage on Saturday, fleet-footed Donny Groezinger raced around the far-side tackle and found open ground.
In a blink, he was in the end zone, but walking back to the huddle looked dejected as a yellow flag for a block in the back negated his touchdown.
Seconds later, quarterback Deven Heeren mishandled a snap, and Luther North’s Alex Roberts fell on it.
For those few precious moments, memories of a slow start a year earlier in the first round of the playoffs danced in the Wildcatz’s heads.
But like every bad dream, those thoughts didn’t last long. As it turned out, the Wildcatz scored touchdowns on their next seven possessions en route to a 54-8 victory.
The Wildcatz (10-0) advanced to the 2A second round for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Waiting for them will be the Newman Comets (9-1), champions of the Three Rivers North. Newman beat Fieldcrest 41-0 on Saturday.
“All the way back to the first few weeks of practice, we’ve had it as a dream to play against Newman in the playoffs,” Eastland-Pearl City lineman Boden Brandt said. “The biggest reason for that, is that would mean that we were in the second or third round of the playoffs, because we knew they’d be good. Now, we’ve got what we wanted.”
While Newman was a goal, winning a first-round game was the main objective. Last year, an undefeated Wildcatz team was upset 31-24 by Orion in the first round.
“We remembered how slow we started against Orion, and it went wrong from there,” Eastland-Pearl City’s Skylar Paulson said. “We were embarrassed by that. Today, we wanted to start strong and make sure that didn’t happen again.”
After the Wildcatz’s fumble, Luther North was forced to punt after three plays.
The Wildcatz took over on their own 30-yard line. Two runs by Eric Shaney moved the ball forward 40 yards to the Luther North 30. Three plays later, Groezinger sprung loose for a 17-yard touchdown.
Luther North responded with its most productive series against the EPC starters, in terms of earning a first down. But after the first down, Luther North went backwards 16 yards, thanks to two movement penalties and a sack by Austin Fischer.
A punt yielded a 48-yard punt return for a touchdown by Cody Kluck, but that TD was also brought back by a penalty.
It didn’t matter, as EPC only needed four plays to find the end zone.
This score came on a 15-yard pass from Heeren to Groezinger with 4 minutes, 20 seconds left in the quarter.
Luther North then turned the ball over for the second of nine times in the game. Tylor Wolf grabbed this fumble and rumbled 35 yards to the Luther North 15.
“Our defense does a great job,” Heeren said. “We don’t really need to score as many points as we do, because we know they aren’t going to allow many.”
After losing a yard on a play, Schaney plowed his way 16 yards for a touchdown. Schaney finished the game with 134 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Heeren followed with three more touchdown passes: another one to Groezinger for 35 yards with 10.7 seconds left in the first quarter, and then two to Paulson for 29 and 20 yards in the second quarter.
Heeren completed all five of his attempts for 102 yards and four touchdowns.
The EPC defense continued to force turnovers, as Kluck had two interceptions and Walter Ollie had a pick.
Schaney wrapped up the first-half scoring with a 6-yard run with 1:28 left to put EPC up 48-0.
The second half was played with a running clock and mostly backups for EPC.
Felix Loja, who had 91 rushing yards, scored Luther North’s lone TD on a 35-yard scamper in the third quarter.
Deven Steen scored on 1-yard run for EPC with 5:12 left in the third quarter to wrap up the scoring.