Facing fourth-and-30 with less than five minutes to go in the game, quarterback Will Stansberry hit Grayson Whited on a screen pass. Whited zigged and zagged his way downfield, and not only for a first down. He raced 80 yards for a touchdown.
It wasn’t enough to keep the Spartans from a 29-15 loss to the Cavaliers in the first round of the VHSL Region 1D playoffs at Carl McConnell Stadium. Still, it provided a lasting image for a senior group that led Eastside throughout a 5-6 season.
“This senior group is a special group,” Rhodes said. “I hated that we didn’t execute for a while on defense or offense and they had to go out like this.
“We can build on this, but I’m going to miss this senior group and the leadership they had. We had one senior out 10 weeks and he came back to play these last two weeks. It’s a brotherhood they have.”
Holston (7-4) — which beat the Spartans 40-22 two weeks ago — earned its first playoff win since 2009. Bruising running back Austin Faris led the way with 21 carries for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
“Coach (Derrick) Patterson told us at halftime that they weren’t going to outdo us or outplay us,” said the 6-foot-3, 240-pound running back. “He said, ‘Let’s run it down their throats,’ and we wanted to do what he said. We didn’t want our season to end today. We were 1-9 my freshman year, 2-9 the next year, then we made the playoffs last year and lost. This is icing on the cake.”
The Spartans weren’t able to take advantage of an 11-yard punt early that gave them possession at the Holston 22. Both defenses proved stingy, and the Cavs stopped the Spartans early on fourth-and-1 at the Holston 13.
Later in the first quarter, an interception by Quaheim Brooks set up Holston at the Eastside 42. Five plays later, Faris rumbled upfield 18 yards for the touchdown and a 6-0 lead.
Eastside responded on its next possession, going 56 yards on 10 plays. Garrett Whited powered in from 2 yards for the tying score, and Timothy Hill booted the extra point to give the Spartans a 7-6 advantage.
The Spartans defense then stepped up, stopping Holston on fourth down at the Eastside 13. The teams traded turnovers and the score remained 7-6 at the half.
HOLSTON TAKES OVER
Holston dominated the last two quarters.
While its defense forced the Spartans into three-and-outs on their first four possessions of the second half, the Cavs’ offense started clicking.
Brooks, the junior quarterback, finished with 16 carries for 100 rushing yards, and effort that included a 28-yard touchdown to pull Holston ahead. He also finished off a 52-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run.
With the powerful Faris leading the way and Jordan Ezell contributing 83 yards, the Cavs enjoyed a 308-88 rushing advantage.
“Faris is a load to bring down. It’s hard to stop him from getting 3, 4 yards every play,” Rhodes noted. “Then you have their athletic quarterback and if you key too much on the run, he can beat you with his arm. That’s a good team.”
Grayson Whited ended with five catches for 142 yards, most of the yards coming on the late touchdown. His twin brother Garrett was the Spartans’ leading rusher with 15 carries for 65 yards.
Stansberry finished 7-for-27 passing for 154 yards.
Evan Bellamy powered his way through to 17 tackles. Bryson Sheppard had 15 tackles and Brayden Mullins added nine.
“This team never gave up. We fought hard and did all we could,” Grayson Whited said. “We gave it our all and that stands out in the end.”