CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Northeast coach Terry Arrington had a few tears rolling down his cheek.
This past summer the second-year Northeast High football coach wasn’t sure exactly what would become of a team that seemed to lack direction and senior leadership. But during the course of the football season, that leadership arrived and Arrington’s team finally started to make progress.
In a must-win scenario for both teams, Northeast High’s defense came up huge while its offense was efficient enough to put pressure on Rossview. And in the end it was the Eagles that came away with the all-important regular season finale victory, knocking off the Hawks 24-9 Friday night in a Region 7-5A game at the Eagles Nest.
The victory catapults Northeast into the Class 5A playoffs for the first time since it advanced to the 5A state semifinals in 2013.
Rossview’s season comes to a close despite a successful 6-4 campaign (3-4 in region).
“It’s been hard work this year,” Northeast coach Terry Arrington said. “We had some bumps in the road this summer but I felt like we kept getting better each week during the season. Except for a blowout loss to Centennial I thought we kept making strides and improvements, so our kids deserve this and I’m so happy for them.”
Northeast quarterback Benji Burchwell scored two rushing touchdowns and senior running back Sabastian Bacino ran 22 times for 112 yards as Northeast (5-5, 3-4) heads into next week’s 5A playoffs.
But it was the Eagles’ defense that was particularly stingy. Twice in the game, Northeast stopped Rossview on fourth down plays in the red zone. Rossview had only 158 yards in the first half and finished with 275 for the game. Quarterback Jordan Justice finished 11-of-16 for 102 yards.
Trailing 7-0 early in the first quarter, the Hawks had a first-and-goal at the Eagles’ 5 before a penalty backed it up five yards. From there, Northeast’s defense did the rest. Rossview tried two running plays that managed just four yards and a pass play that netted two more. The final pass from the 7 yard line fell incomplete.
Northeast then went on a marathon 17-play drive that ate up the remainder of the first quarter before Logan Rasnick booted a 39-yard field goal with 8:04 left in the third period to give the Eagles a 10-0 lead.
“It’s been a combination of injuries and youth this year,” Rossview coach Ron Lambert said. “I’m not one for excuses because Northeast deserved this and I hope they represent our region well in the playoffs. But it just wasn’t our year and that’s a shame because I felt we had a great year.”
Rossview played without two starters on its offensive line. The holes that seemed to be open for the Hawks’ running backs were not there often enough Friday. By the final few minutes of the game and down three scores, the Hawks were resigned to throwing the ball.
Yet Rossview climbed back into the game with 25 seconds before halftime when Justice directed a seven-play drive that was capped off by Ethan Clayton’s 2-yard, second-effort touchdown run to close the lead to 10-7.
The second half opened up with Rossview on the march again. This time the Hawks used an 11-play drive to get within 16 yards of the end zone but on fourth down, Northeast’s defense held again.
“You have to find a way into the end zone,” Lambert said. “Those were two chances we had that could have changed the game and we came away with nothing. The execution just wasn’t there (Friday) night.”
Once again, Northeast followed that stand with a 14-play drive that resulted in another touchdown as Burchwell scored from 12 yards out with 2:45 left in the third quarter and a 17-7 lead.
Burchwell would scramble 11 yards for a score with 5:58 left in the game to stretch the lead to 24-7, and Northeast ran the ball out of the back of the end zone on a fourth-down play as time expired to give Rossview a safety.
“It feels great now and it’ll feel great (Saturday) but we have to regroup and get ready for the playoffs,” Arrington said. “We’re going to enjoy this for a couple of days and then get back out there next Friday and see what happens.”
Reach Prep writer George Robinson at 931-245-0747 and on Twitter @Cville_Sports.