Episcopal defeated Baldwin in Friday’s FHSAA Region 1-3A high school football quarterfinal.

By Jeff Elliott


For the Times-Union


This time, it was Episcopal scoring the 35 points, and in the process, recording the school’s first-ever win in a football playoff game.


The Eagles used a strong rushing effort from Ershod Jasey II, a pair of college-looking touchdown catches by Nick Elksnis and a defense that forced five turnovers, all of which helped lead Episcopal to a 35-25 win in a Region 1-3A first-round playoff game at Jangro Stadium Friday night.


The win was sweet revenge for the Eagles (10-1), whose only loss this year was a 35-7 defeat to Baldwin (8-4) on Sept. 20.


“You guys just won the most important game in Episcopal history,” Eagles coach Mark Brunell yelled to his squad in an emotionally-charged, postgame fiery speech on the field among players, family members and Eagle boosters.


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The game was a complete reversal for the Eagles from their first encounter with the Indians. In that game, Jasey was held to a career-low 27 yards in eight carries. The fleet sophomore running back surpassed that total in his first four carries, and almost surpassed his career high of 187 rushing yards. He finished with 171 yards on 25 carries including highlight reel runs of 46 and 28 yards that resulted in scores.


Jasey was a standout on the other side of the ball as well, picking off one of four Eagle interceptions and forcing Baldwin quarterback Bryce Tompkins into 23 other incompletions.


“Since that first game with them, I just went out with the expectation that I’ve got to get better every day,” Jasey said. “Tonight everybody — the O-line, the receivers, the backs — played better. This win is really big for the school, all the families, all the communities and everyone in our community. Now we want to go out and get another one next week.”


Episcopal’s attack was far more than just the running exploits of Jasey. Elksnis was a force that Baldwin defenders couldn’t handle. The 6-6 junior tight end caught his first TD pass sandwiched by two Indians cornerbacks, the 20-yard reception resulting in Episcopal’s first score. On the Eagles first possession of the second half, he finished off a 55-yard drive by holding off a defender with his left hand and making the catch in the end zone with his right hand. That gave Episcopal a 21-19 lead, one they wouldn’t relinquish.


Elksnis wasn’t done, however. The Penn State commit cemented the Eagles playoff win when he grabbed a Baldwin fumble in the final minute of play and rumbled 10 yards into the end zone for his third score of the night.


“All I can say is that I’ve worked my butt off all offseason so I felt that when the time came, I knew I could make the plays,” Elksnis said. “On the fumble recovery, I was just in the right place at the right time. This is a special feeling tonight. This is my most-satisfying win ever. I’ve had a lot of fun games but this is by far my favorite. Hopefully there’s more coming.”


The offensive showing by Episcopal was a vast improvement from its first meeting with Baldwin, a game in which the Eagles were held to a single touchdown and 107 total yards. Five touchdowns and 334 yards of offense were more than enough to send them into a second-round meeting at No. 2 seed Florida High in a regional semifinal game. The Tallahassee school got a good look at their opponent as the entire team (which had a bye this week) was in the stands observing the contest.


“This team showed a lot of resolve tonight and I’m so proud of them,” Brunell said. “Any time you get five turnovers you have a very good chance to win the game. But give credit to Baldwin, they hung in there. Our defense was opportunistic and gave us the ball in some short fields.


“Nick is a special guy, there’s a reason why he’s going to Penn State. He makes big plays when you need him to the most. I couldn’t be more pleased with his effort. And Jasey, he’s a tough, hard-nosed, physical running back who’s gotten better as the season goes on.