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(Special to Eastern Kansas Sports courtesy of M. Eddie Hibbs III)

ERIE – The Red Devils used a strong second half en route to a 34-19 homecoming victory against Neodesha here Friday night.

It was the first win of the season for Erie and for first-year head coach Eddie Kearns.

“I thought tonight’s game was a matter of will,” said Kearns. “I think the turning point was in the second quarter. Even though we didn’t score in the first half, we went to a no-huddle and had success. We made some adjustments with our blocking technique at halftime and it worked.”

The game opened with Erie kicking off and recovering an on-side kick. It was not a designed play, according to the coach, but the Red Devils would begin each half with the pigskin in their hands.

The only score in the first half came just before the break when junior Seth Strange scored on a 6-yard run at 1:25. With the PAT kick from senior Mayson Ellis, the Bluestreaks led 7-0.

The Red Devils capitalized on a nice return on the second half kickoff  from junior Dawson Lehman when 250-pound converted offensive lineman Derick Wallace bulldozed his way across the goal line, capping  a six-play, 59-yard drive. Lehman made a nice run-after-catch with a 36-yard reception from senior quarterback Matthew Vail to put the ball at the one.The PAT run failed and Neodesha led 7-6 with 9:36 remaining in the third.

The Bluestreaks answered immediately when Strange tallied his second TD with a 42-jaunt, giving Neodesha a 13-6 advantage.

Neither team scored again until the first play of the fourth quarter when Vail connected with junior Tyler Duling on a 10-yard score, but Erie was unable to convert the PAT after a penalty and the Bluestreaks held a 13-12 lead.

Neodesha answered yet again on its next offensive series when junior Phoenix Carpenter sprinted into the end zone on a 20-yard score, pushing the lead to 19-12.

Erie responded with 22 unanswered points to seal the deal.

“I didn’t like the way we started,” Kearns told the players in the post-game huddle. “We need to clean up the penalties. I have never had a team with more offensive penalties than we did tonight. All and all, I’m very proud of you boys. We fight until the last bell; we fight until the last second ticks off.”

Lehman tallied his third touchdown of the season when he crossed the goal line on a 2-yard run with 6:26 left in the game. Lehman also ran the conversion, giving Erie a 20-19 lead – the Red Devils’ first lead of the season. Sophomore Garrett Ruark increased the lead to 26-19 as he scampered to pay dirt with 3:27 remaining. Junior Tyler Pasquarelli tallied his first score of 2019 on an 18-yard run at 2:47. Lehman ran the conversion.

“It was a good win for us,” Kearns said. “I feel like we are starting to turn the corner and have the right attitude. We fight. We give 100 percent 100 percent of the time.”

Neodesha is on the road next week at Caney Valley. The Red Devils entertain Cherryvale.

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