By Josh Brown
TROY — Miami East made the most of nearly all of its chances early on.
And the one chance the Vikings gave Troy Christian, the Eagles couldn’t convert.
Braxton Donaldson threw a pair of first-half touchdown passes to Logan May and Logan West returned a sack-fumble for another score as the Vikings built a 19-point lead at halftime, coasting from there to a 41-24 victory over Troy Christian at Eagle Stadium Friday in a critical Week 9 showdown with big playoff implications.
“When we got that sack and the ball popped up in the air and we returned it, that really set the tone for the night,” Miami East coach Max Current said. “They’re (Troy Christian) a very explosive offense. Their running back (Luke Dillahunt), he can change the game in one play. So it’s nice to have a little cushion.
“Offensively, we stopped ourselves a couple times, but we never punted. We were able to move the ball and do some things on offense.”
Miami East —which entered the night in the eighth and final spot in the Division VI, Region 22 playoff standings — improved to 7-2 with the victory and held onto the eighth position. The Eagles, meanwhile, fell to .500 at 4-4 — and, entering the night in 10th in Division VII, Region 26, with a game against winless Mississinawa Valley remaining in Week 10, were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
The Vikings used the big play early on as May got behind the defense on a play-action pass and Donaldson hit him with a 48-yard touchdown strike to make it 7-0 in the middle of the first quarter. And on the ensuing Troy Christian drive, Kurt Brower sacked Eagle quarterback Hayden Hartman from behind, forcing him to fumble it — right into the hands of Logan West, who took it in stride 47 yards the other way for another score. In a blink, East held a 14-0 lead.
Troy Christian was able to answer. Luke Dillahunt, who has been nursing injuries throughout the second half of the season, broke a 46-yard run but was caught from behind at the Viking 10 on what normally would be a touchdown run. Three plays later, though, Dillahunt finished the drive off with a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 14-6 after one quarter.
Then came the Eagles’ chance.
Troy Christian forced a fumble, and Jacob Calvert recovered at the Troy Christian 26-yard line, and on the very next play Dillahunt broke what appeared to be a 69-yard run that would have put the ball on the Vikings’ 5. But a holding penalty behind the line brought it all the way back, and the Eagles eventually had to punt, missing their opportunity to close the gap or possibly tie the score.
Miami East then took the ball 64 yards the other way in nine plays, with Kurt Brower capping off the drive with a 4-yard touchdown to make it 21-6.
“On that drive before we fumbled, we had a big run called back on a hold, too, so those kind of evened out. But that was a crucial point in the game,” Current said. “They could’ve possibly tied it, but instead we ended up punching it in and getting that two-score cushion.”
Seth Wynne kicked a 35-yard field goal with 2:00 left in the half, but that was enough time for the Vikings to get one last score before the half. Donaldson went 3 for 6 passing on the nine-play, 60-yard drive, including a 14-yard completion to Arron Adams on fourth-and-10 from the Eagle 34 and then a 20-yard score to May with 0:08 seconds left in the half, giving the Vikings a 28-9 lead at the break.
“That was big,” Current said. “We almost threw an interception on that drive, their safety jumped a route, but he dropped that and we ended up punching it in right before the half. That was key for us.”
Donaldson finished the game 6 for 9 for 126 yards and two touchdowns, with May catching three passes for 80 yards and Adams two for 40.
The Eagles got one last chance right at the beginning of the third. Troy Christian recovered another Viking fumble on the kickoff to begin the second half — but they couldn’t do anything with it as the Viking defense forced a turnover on downs. Miami East then took it the other way, with May scoring on a 15-yard touchdown run to make it 34-9 with 6:10 left in the third.
“The defense held them on fourth down, and that was the key to the second half,” Current said. “We turned it over, but then we didn’t give up any points, take the ball down and score ourselves.”
The Eagles got a big return on the ensuing kickoff, though, and Hartman was able to cash in the short field on a 2-yard option keeper and then convert a two-point play to make it 34-17 with 4:54 left in the quarter.
The Vikings answered with a lengthy drive, eating up the rest of the third quarter, with Donaldson sneaking it in from a yard out to make it 41-17 with 11:05 to play. Troy Christian drove the other way, but an interception with 7:25 to go sealed the win. Dillahunt broke an 87-yard touchdown run with 1:55 left, but it was too late.
Dillahunt finished with 208 yards on 23 attempts for the Eagles.
Brower led the Vikings in rushing with 152 yards on 19 carries, May had 74 yards on eight attempts and Adams had 52 yards on seven attempts.
Miami East finishes the regular season at home against Twin Valley South — which lost to Tri-County North Friday, the Panthers’ third Cross County Conference loss, leaving the Vikings and Covington Buccaneers atop the CCC, each with one league loss. Both teams can clinch shares of the CCC title with a Week 10 win.
“If we can take care of South, we’ll be league champs with Covington. That’s the goal. That’s always the goal,” Current said. “In 57 years, we’ve got three league titles. Hopefully we can be focused this week, prevail and get No. 4.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.