By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — Even going in as a No. 1 seed in its first season in Division V, the Miami East football team knew what it was up against Friday night.
And despite a valiant effort, the Vikings came up just short.
Miami East and No. 8 Reading battled back and forth all night in the opening round of the D-V, Region 20 playoffs, with the Vikings even taking a four-point lead at halftime. The Blue Devils built a nine-point lead in the third quarter, though, and held off a late charge by East for a 27-25 victory Friday night at Miami East High School.
In fact, the Vikings could measure just how close they were.
“We came up six inches short,” Miami East coach Max Current said. We were driving the ball around their 30 or so with about a minute left in the game, went for it on fourth down and came up about six inches short when they measured. We were just trying to drive to get into field goal range at least.”
It was the sixth consecutive playoff berth for the Vikings (9-2). Miami East only had one playoff victory in program history entering Friday night’s matchup against Reading (8-3) — in 2013 over Tri-County North when it had also earned the No. 1 seed, only then in the D-VI, Region 22 standings.
“It’s like I told the guys. I told them to hold their heads up high, because they have a lot to be proud of,” Current said. “They had a season that they’ll remember the rest of their lives. The juniors and seniors became the first classes in school history to win two league championships. We got our fifth league title in school history. They’ve got a lot to be proud of.”
The Blue Devils showed what they were capable of quickly. On the second play from scrimmage, quarterback John Miller hit Mancini Jackson with a quick screen pass on the left sideline, and Jackson took it 65 yards, cutting all the way across to the opposite sideline before crossing the goal line to put Reading up 7-0 with 11:05 still on the clock in the first quarter.
“They’re a very fast team, and we can’t simulate that in practice,” Current said. “So there was a feeling-out period at the beginning. But I thought we adjusted to their speed a little.”
Miami East answered with what it does best, though — a methodical drive down the field. The Vikings marched 64 yards in 12 plays, converting a third and a fourth down along the way — with Vincent Villella pushing the pile forward for a 5-yard gain on fourth-and-2 from the Reading 20 to keep the drive alive. And sophomore Kaleb Nickels finished off the drive, taking a carry around the left side and being up-ended by a defender as he crossed the goal line to put the Vikings on the board. The point after hit the goalpost, though, and Miami East still trailed 7-6 with 5:41 left in the first.
Reading fought right back, taking the ball 53 yards on 10 plays, the key play being an 11-yard keeper by Miller on third-and-10 from the Viking 19-yard line. Three plays later, Miller tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass over the middle to put the Devils up 14-6 with 1:13 to go in the quarter.
The Vikings made short work of their next possession, though, striking one last time before the opening quarter ended. A 14-yard run by Villella and a 32-yard scamper by quarterback Ian Gengler set up a 19-yard touchdown by Villella with :07 still on the clock. The Vikings tried for two but did not get it, though, and still trailed 14-12.
Miami East recovered an onside kick to end the first quarter, but Reading forced a fourth-down fumble, and the Vikings could not capitalize. East’s defense came up with its first stop of the night, though, forcing a turnover on downs at its own 37-yard line — and the Vikings turned that opportunity into points. Gengler hit a streaking Justin Brown in stride over the middle for a 45-yard gain on second-and-long from the Viking 46, and four plays later Villella broke into the end zone again on a 7-yard run to put the Vikings up 18-14 — and that’s where things remained at halftime.
Reading took over midway through the third quarter. Jackson broke a 43-yard touchdown run to put the Devils back on top, 21-18 with 5:58 left in the third, then a 7-yard score with 2:15 left in the quarter made the score 27-18 Reading after East blocked the extra point attempt.
“We had (Jackson) for a loss on that long touchdown run, and he just busted through,” Current said. “We had that play well defended, but we just didn’t execute. And he broke a lot of tackles on that run.”
The Vikings weren’t done, though. The defense recovered a Reading fumble on the Blue Devils’ 8-yard line, and Villella scored his third touchdown of the night from 5 yards out to cut the lead to two at 27-25 Reading at the end of the third quarter. And while the Devils couldn’t find a way to put the game away in the fourth quarter, they were still able to hold East off in the end.
“My guys play hard. On Friday nights, they play their hind ends off,” Current said. “I can never fault their effort, and they come to play. They have a lot to be proud of, and I’m proud of them.
“I also want to thank my assistant coaches — Kevin Evans, Steve Kirby, Todd Hawkins, Josh Snyder, Mark Rose, Frank Hall, Gary Church and Kevin Pyers — for their dedication all season long.”
Reading moves on to face No. 5 West Jefferson, a 48-18 winner over No. 4 Bethel-Tate, in the D-V, Region 20 semifinals on Nov. 10.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.