CAIRO - In the postseason, the difference between winning and losing can be a couple of plays here and there.
Cairo (12-0) made those plays and Eastside (11-2) didn't Friday night at a soggy West Thomas Stadium.
The Syrupmakers scored 10 points after making a key goal-line stand in the third quarter, securing a 23-6 victory over the Eagles in Class AAA quarterfinals.
"We came out like gangbusters, but they made some adjustments and did a good job," Eastside coach Rick Hurst said. "I'm not making any excuses. I told our kids they made the plays and we didn't; that's the bottom line. That is what it came down to."
Eastside took the opening kickoff and marched the ball 76 yards on 13 plays to take a 6-0 lead, consuming 7:07 on the clock.
Senior quarterback Justin Wray made the key plays on the drive for the Eagles. First, he dashed for 18 yards to pick up a first down near midfield. Then, Wray's 20-yard completion to Andrico Bailey set up his 9-yard run on third-and-2 down to the Cairo 6.
Three plays later, Broderick Alexander scored from a yard out off the left tackle, giving the Eagles a 6-0 advantage with 4:53 left in the quarter. The extra point was blocked.
Cairo answered the Eastside score on its first drive.
Syrupmakers quarterback Angelo Pease hit Dewayne Isom for a 19-yard gain to start the drive. Four plays later, Pease scrambled his way for a 20-yard gain down the Eagle 18.
Cairo running back Angelo Bryant took care of the final 18 yards, rushing four straight times and scoring on a 1-yard run with 38 seconds left in the first quarter.
Logan Gainous' PAT gave the Syrupmakers a 7-6 lead after a 10-play, 80-yard drive.
Cairo's defense held Eastside to a three-and-out on its next possession.
And then, the Syrupmakers took advantage of a short field to add to their lead.
Pease found Isom for another big play in the air, this time a 25-yard connection down the Eagle 19.
On the next play, Bryant dragged an Eastside defender for a 13-yard gain to the 6.
The Syrupmakers dodged a bullet when Bryant recovered his own fumble on the next play at 12.
But Bryant and Cairo shook off the miscue on second down. The Syrupmakers caught the Eagles in a blitz and Bryant walked into the end zone untouched on a perfectly executed screen pass from 12 yards out with 7:38 left until halftime.
Gainous hooked the extra point, but Cairo held a 13-6 lead.
Eastside threatened late in the first half when a pair of Git Aiken runs for 24 yards and a Cairo personal foul gave Eastside the ball at Syrupmaker 34 with nine seconds left in the second quarter
However, Wray's pass for the end zone intended for Bailey was broken up and the senior quarterback was sacked on the final play of the half.
In the third quarter, the momentum swung Eastside's way when Cairo punter Garrett Godwin downed the ball on his own 7 after a poor snap along the ground.
After a Cairo offsides penalty moved the ball to the 4, the Eagles failed to score on three straight carries by Alexander.
Facing a fourth-and-goal at the 1, Eastside rolled the dice and decided to go for the touchdown. However, Wray was stopped on the quarterback sneak by the right side of the Cairo line.
"(If we score), it changes the game," Hurst said. "You can question yourself forever, but you go with whatever your gut tells you. They did a good job and stuffed it. I thought he got in, but he didn't. So that was a huge portion of the game."
After that, the Syrupmakers converted three huge plays to escape the shadow of their own goal post.
First, Bryant shook loose for 17 yards on a third-and-15 from his own seven. Next, Ronnie Wooten ripped off a 61-yard gain on the option down to the Eastside 25 on a second-and-20 play. Finally, Pease hit Isom for a 15-yard connection on fourth-and-14.
The Syrupmakers converted the drive into points when Gainous kicked a 28-yard field goal for a 16-3 lead with 10:09 left in the game.
Cairo converted two third downs and a fourth down on the march, while moving the ball 88 yards on 15 plays and chewing up 9:32 on the clock.
After Eastside turned the ball over on downs at the Cairo 44, Pease put the game away scoring on a 15-yard run off a bootleg on a third-and-10 play.
The loss ended the best football season in Eastside's history.
"I told the kids that I'm proud of them and the school is proud of them," Hurst said. "Twenty years from now, unless we win one or go any further, this team will go down as the best team in the history of the school. We've got a lot to be proud of."
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.