Warren Easton defense shuts down McDonogh 35 in battle of District 9-4A front-runners _lowres

Advocate Photo by VERONICA DOMINACH-- Warren Easton quarterback Tyriek Starks scores a touchdown against McDonogh 35 during a regular-season game Oct. 17.

Not one member of the Warren Easton or McDonogh 35 football teams has forgotten the score of their Oct. 17 game.

A 31-7 victory in favor of the Eagles left both sides with differing memories.

For Easton, it’s like the game never happened.

For McDonogh 35 it was a chance to press reset on the entire season.

“That first one didn’t even happen,” Easton coach Tony Hull said. “It’s over. It’s in the past. We don’t even remember that game.”

“Our kids were young at heart,” McDonogh 35 coach Wayne Reese Sr. remembered. “The more they played, the more they became better football players, better people. These guys are up to the task now. These kids want to prove to themselves they can compete with these guys.”

The rematch comes in the Class 4A state quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Friday at Tad Gormley.

Easton’s victory over McDonogh 35 was a stepping-stone that led to the District 9-4A title, but the game left a lasting impression.

The Eagles led 12-7 through three quarters before pulling away in the fourth. That’s been a constant theme of the team throughout the season: overcoming adversity and finishing games.

“This team is built off perseverance,” Easton quarterback Tyriek Starks said. “We’ve persevered through a lot this season. We persevered through that game.”

That loss lit a fire under the Roneagles, who since then have won four of five and have allowed merely 16 points in the victories. That includes six points allowed through the first two playoff games.

As punishing as the McDonogh 35 defense has been, it’s the offense that’s given the team a new identity. After averaging 24.9 points through the first seven games, McDonogh 35 is averaging over 38 points per game over the past five.

“We’ve gotten more dominant throughout the rest of the season,” McDonogh 35 defensive tackle Stephon Taylor said. “We’ve worked hard to get where we are. As we see them again, we’re a totally different team coming to play football this game.”

“We’re playing more as a team,” added safety Brad Stewart. “We’re feeding off each other’s energy. We feel like we have a chip on our shoulder, and now that they’re giving us a chance, they’re overlooking us. We’re ready to come out and surprise them.”

Easton has reached the quarterfinals the past three years, while 35 is back at that stage in the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

The Eagles have won 10 in a row and have scored 40 or more points eight times in that span, while McDonogh 35 is coming off the school’s first postseason shutout since 2006.

In a matchup of offense against defense and strength versus strength, both sides know what to expect and realize what’s at stake.

“The last time, our strength won,” Easton receiver Clyde Chriss said. “It’s a good challenge to see their good defense and our good offense.”

“We’ve learned from our mistakes and are ready to play football,” Taylor said. “Our defense is a family. We aim to shut people down, so we’re tying to hold them to zero.”