COEBURN — Prior to the kickoff of Friday night’s second-round VHSL Group A, Division 1 playoff game at Eastside, the Spartans’ cheerleaders marched out with a banner welcoming J.I. Burton to their rodeo.
The Raiders had their own way of saying “yippie ki-yay.”
J.I. Burton scored 42 first-half points on only 11 offensive snaps en route to a 49-28 victory.
During the onslaught, the Raiders recovered two fumbles and got punts blocked by both Josey Collins and Jimmy Patten that abbreviated the field for lightning-quick scores.
Compounding Eastside’s woes was losing starting quarterback Caleb Riner to a possible concussion shortly after Norton went up 27-6 in the second quarter.
“Any time you lose a kid like Caleb Riner in the middle of the game, that affects everybody,” said Spartans coach Matt Hamilton, who used Erikk Banks in a wildcat set for most of the second half.
Malik Miles led the Raiders (9-3) with 104 yards on 16 carries, including a 3-yard touchdown crash that initiated scoring and a 2-yard TD run at the beginning of the second quarter. Tyler Justiniano had 48 yards on seven scoots, including a 7-yard TD run for the 14-6 lead.
Kelly Thompson had 44 yards in five trips, including a 13-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and an 8-yard scoring run in the third. He also hauled in a 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tanner Crowder.
When the Burton signal-caller scored on a 3-yard keeper with 9:01 remaining in the first half, the shell-shocked Spartans trailed 42-6.
In the final 1:34 of the half, Eastside demonstrated just how dangerous it still was.
As the Raiders’ offense looked to exploit the field position gifted by a third, partially blocked punt, Aaron Sexton scooped up a Justiniano fumble and trucked it 86 yards to score.
Penalties, an energized Eastside defense and a deep snap over Crowder’s head on an abortive punt attempt resulted in a safety. Ethan Collins took the subsequent free kick and returned it 74 yards to bring the margin back down to three touchdowns.
Collins, whose 10-yard scoring run tied the game at 6 early in the first frame, played through a painful high ankle sprain. He led the Spartans with 125 yards rushing on 19 carries.
“We go in at halftime, we tell our kids, we score one more time it’s a four-possession game. If we can run the sweep, stay in bounds and try not to beat ourselves, they don’t win,” said Burton coach Jimbo Adams, whose lineup was missing six starters. “Survive and advance, that’s what you do.”
When Thompson made a nice cutback to score his final TD with 6:03 left in third period, Burton got the breathing room it needed. As Banks got more comfortable taking most of the shotgun snaps, it took a few big plays by Raiders defensive backs like Thompson to keep the Spartans contained.
“The first half was kind of overwhelming but the second half was a lot closer than it looked on the scoreboard. It was a battle,” Crowder said. “I think if they hadn’t lost their quarterback, it would have been a much closer ballgame.”
Banks scored on a 1-yard TD run with 3:10 remaining. Not time enough for another comeback surge.
The Raiders will either travel to Honaker or host Galax at Lawson-Fitchko Stadium next week, depending on today’s outcome at the Tigers’ EMATS Field.
“All the coaches in Virginia know that if you have a football team playing the week of Thanksgiving, you’ve got a special group of kids,” Adams said. “We’re playing the week of Thanksgiving and we don’t care who we play.”