Zaylan Frias and Keyon McFarland were back, as so was the pep in the step on Lincoln Heights’ sideline.
When Frias got to touch the ball, he didn’t need long to make up for lost time.
Frias found the end zone three times and grabbed an interception on defense, helping ignite the Patriots to a 36-16 victory over East Ridge on Tuesday night at Burke-Toney Stadium.
On 10 carries, Frias gained 93 yards. But his biggest play of the night might have been the second offensive snap of the second quarter with the Patriots (3-2 Middle Eight) trailing 2-0. Facing fourth-and-30 at its own 10-yard line, Lincoln Heights rolled the dice with Frias getting the call.
The speedster found just enough running room to burn the East Ridge defense for a 35-yard gain and was in the end zone two plays later, following up R.J. Lawson’s 16-yard burst by sweeping outside 39 yards for his first TD.
“It was big,” Patriots coach DeWayne Simpson said. “He went through therapy and came back this week. He and Keyon, those two guys are a big part of the nucleus we had tonight.”
Two plays after an East Ridge punt, Frias darted to the end zone again from 29 yards away for a 14-2 lead after Camren Richards ran for the 2-point conversion.
Bricyn Gudger came just one defender away from returning East Ridge’s next punt for a touchdown, but his 27-yard return to the 3 set up Frias to score on the next play for a 22-2 lead after Austin Slover found Jalen McCullough for the conversion.
Gudger, who went 30 yards on a pass reception from McCullough, ran for 56 yards on just 3 carries. His last carry went for 19 yards to the 1-yard line after Lawson had gained 37 the previous play.
Defensive lineman and kicker Khalil Donaldson got the payoff for his work in the trenches and the kicking game, powering his way into the end zone from the 1 and then running in the conversion for the final score with 2:23 left.
“That was big for him,” Simpson said of Donaldson. “He’s been wanting that from day one and tonight was his night.”
The Patriots embarked on a 12-play drive carrying over from the third quarter into the final stanza, chewing up 5:52 off the second half clock and culminating with Austin Brannon finding the end zone from 5 yards for a 28-8 lead with 3:56 remaining.
Lincoln Heights ran for 260 yards in the contest with Lawson gaining 83 yards on 8 attempts and Richards carrying 6 times for 34.
“When they get their shots, just like Division 1, when it’s your turn you better take advantage of it,” Simpson said of his backfield.
McCullough led the Patriots in tackles with 5 1/2, combining with Trevor Jarnigan for 1 stop behind the line of scrimmage.
Jarnigan recorded 5 stops of his own with Gio Chavez, Hunter Livesay, Kyler McCullough and Frias all adding 1 TFL.
With McFarland back on the D-line, Lincoln Heights limited the Bears (0-5) to 79 yards of total offense.
All of it came courtesy of TayShaun Blanton as he carried the ball 8 times for 79 yards. Blanton busted loose for a 63-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, cutting the deficit to 28-16 with 3:37 on the clock after Carter Gilliam kept for the conversion.
Blanton was responsible for the Bears’ first touchdown too, stepping in front of an out pattern and returning the interception 80 yards the other way to pull East Ridge within 22-8 in the third quarter.
“He did a good job reading that throw, good defensive play there,” East Ridge coach Luke Elkins said. “We are proud of our players. We’re not having the season we desired to have but they’re still showing up at practice and giving it 100 percent so I’m proud of the kids.”
East Ridge took a 2-0 lead when a bad snap from the 4-yard line resulted in a safety.
Max Baker recorded the lone TFL for the Bears, who finished 0-of-8 on third downs. Jake Beal led East Ridge with 6 tackles while Michael Brewer added 5.
East Ridge will be the visiting team at Burke-Toney Stadium next week as the Bears face Meadowview at 5:30 p.m. before Lincoln Heights will switch to the home side to face West View at 7 p.m.