EAST LAKE — The third time really was a charm for East Lake.
For two straight years the Eagles have watched their season come to a halt two steps shy of a state title. Friday night, though, East Lake let it be known early that the trend would be ending in 2013.
Visiting Port Charlotte (10-2) could do little else but watch as the stronger, faster, more-athletic Eagles blew the doors off of a game that was practically over 8 minutes into the first quarter.
“We knew that we couldn't let them get any momentum or get any life back,” East Lake quarterback Jake Hudson said of the quick 21-0 lead that ballooned to a 49-15 win. “We had to keep the pedal down and keep everything going.”
Hudson and East Lake (13-0) set the tone with the game's first drive. The junior signal caller hit George Campbell for 51 yards down the right sideline on the second play before finding him three snaps later for a 5-yard touchdown.
After Port Charlotte ran a feeble three plays for minus-2 yards on the ensuing possession and then fumbled away the punt snap for a loss of 16, it was evident the Pirates were in for a long night on the road.
East Lake's defense, more-than-tested against run-heavy attacks like Port Charlotte this season, stepped up with one of its best all-around performances of the year. Led by linemen Leo Jeter, Regis Steighner, Christina Panduro and Hunter Snyder, the Eagles limited the Pirates to 74 total yards. Linebacker Carson Lyndon tracked down Port Charlotte quarterback Traige McClary three times.
Hudson, with the help of Campbell, Artavis Scott and TE Dillon Zettwuch, moved the Eagles offense practically at will. Often overlooked under center, Hudson finished 14 of 16 for 190 yards, five touchdowns and an interception. Campbell (five receptions for 124 yards) grabbed three of the scores and Zettwuch snared the other two.
“People rag [Jake Hudson] and all that and say how he's not Pete [DiNovo], but he's not Pete,” East Lake coach Bob Hudson said, referring to the Eagles' former QB. “He's a good player. We had to call his number and he came through. He threw one pick there and he forced it. That's a young thing and a kid trying to make a play.”
One of the state's most electric playmakers, Scott got in on the scoring action with a dazzling first-quarter punt return of 67 yards and then by running another in at the end of the first half from 14 yards out.
Coach Hudson and East Lake determined during film study that the trenches were where Port Charlotte excelled. That played out Friday night, especially when the Pirates were on defense. To counter, East Lake went to the air on nearly 40 percent of its offensive snaps (16 of 41) and abused the Port Charlotte secondary.
“We had a good game plan,” Jake Hudson said. “We watched film on them a lot and figured out what types of coverages they were in. We had great offensive line protection and the receivers played their butts off. Everything came together nice. We're just putting all the pieces together.”
Running room was scarce for tailback Weston Fordham, but the senior workhorse plowed ahead for 50 tough yards on 14 carries that helped keep Pirates defenders honest.
“Our O-line's good against anyone, but because of what they were doing we put the ball in the air a little bit more,” Coach Hudson said. “And we're good at doing that, too.”
Seriously dampening the mood, though, was a head injury suffered by East Lake's Noah Vazquez during a meaningless Port Charlotte onside kick attempt with 12 seconds left in the game. An ambulance had to take Vazquez, a senior defensive back, off the field.
The onside attempt while down 34 points was the last of numerous questionable actions from the Port Charlotte players, sideline and stands. Pirates fans were lobbing derogatory comments across the field in the first half as Scott laid on the turf after absorbing a blow to his legs. Between the lines, late hits earned Port Charlotte players four personal fouls.
That was about the only fight Port Charlotte showed and East Lake didn't let it faze them in terms of its play. The Pirates first score came shortly after Scott was shaken up. Christian Coffelletto intercepted a Hudson pass two plays later and running back Anthony Stephens scored on the Pirates' first play from 27 yards out.
That touchdown made it 21-7 East Lake, but the Eagles made sure to snuff out any would-be momentum by driving 51 yards on 10 plays to go up 28-7. Hudson capped the sequence by finding Zettwuch for a 16-yard score.
East Lake is expected to get a much stiffer test next week. The Eagles play host to Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer on Friday night. The Panthers beat defending Class 7A state champion Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, 36-28.
“Either way, we have a college team coming to us, so we've got to get to work,” Coach Hudson said after the game as the Dwyer-St. Thomas Aquinas game was still ongoing.
Though the Eagles will enter next week as an underdog for the first time this season, home-field advantage saves East Lake and its dedicated fan base from a four-hour drive to Palm Beach Gardens.
“You can't ask for much better," Coach Hudson said. "This will be four in a row that we haven't had to travel so it's exciting for the kids and exciting for the community to have [one of those teams] come up here.”
PC - 7 – 0 – 0 – 8 --- 15
EL - 21 – 14 – 7 – 7 --- 49
EL – Campbell 5-yard pass from Hudson. PAT kick (LaCamera) – 1st Quarter (9:04)
EL – Campbell 9-yard pass from Hudson. PAT kick (LaCamera) – 1st Quarter (6:08)
EL – Scott 67-yard punt return. PAT kick (LaCamera) – 1st Quarter (4:09)
PC – Stephens 27-yard run. PAT kick (Hernandez) – 1st Quarter (0:48)
EL – Zettwuch 16-yard pass from Hudson. PAT kick (LaCamera) – 2nd Quarter (7:26)
EL – Scott 14-yard run. PAT kick (LaCamera) – 2nd Quarter (0:00)
EL – Zettwuch 10-yard pass from Hudson. PAT kick (LaCamera) – 3rd Quarter (4:01)
EL – Campbell 45-yard pass from Hudson. PAT kick (LaCamera) – 4th Quarter (11:46)
PC – Heitter 20-yard pass from McClary. 2-pt. pass (McClary to Tyler) – 4th Quarter (0:13)
PC – Stephens (7-41, TD), Luther (4-9), McClary (11-4).
EL – Fordham (14-50), Scott (4-19, TD), Cuoto (1-13).
PC – McClary (1-7 for 20, TD).
EL – Hudson (14-16 for 190, 5 TD, INT).
EL – Campbell (5-124, 3 TD), Zettwuch (2-26, 2 TD), Scott (3-29).