LUMBERTON — Xavier Wooten scored twice, including the game-winner with less than 30 seconds left, and East Bladen earned its first-ever win at the Battle of the Caroilina Football Jamboree on Thursday, 12-8 over Latta, S.C.
Latta came into the Jamboree after a 2016 season that saw the Vikings fall just one step short of the South Carolina Class 2-A state championship game. But the Eagles’ defense, under the tutelage of former head coach Lenon Fisher, held the visitors to just 106 total yards.
East Bladen went three and out on its opening possession, then stymied the Vikings on three straight plays — the biggest one coming on second and 10 when Xavia McDowell burst into the backfield and took down the Vikings’ ball carrier for a 2-yard loss.
The Eagles got the ball back moments later at its own 41, but Quinton Bedsole was pressured on first down and lofted a long pass down the center of the field that Latta picked off.
Starting at their own 29, the Vikings picked up 36 yards with a first-down pass and got another 14 yards on the next play with a pass to the East Bladen 21. But two successive penalties took the ball back 10 yards and Latta never recovered. Needing to get to the Eagles’ 11, the Vikings went for it on fourth an 15 with a pass — but Sincere Smith defended perfectly and broke up the pass.
East Bladen took over at its own 26 and put together a nine-play, 74-yard drive that featured a 10-yard run by McDowell, 10-yard run by B.J. Robinson, another 10-yard run by McDowell and, after a 10-yard penalty against Latta, a 10-yard touchdown run by Wooten with 3:51 left in the half. A two-point attempt was no good, but East Bladen took a 6-0 edge.
Latta did nothing with the ball over the rest of the half except go backwards on penalties and halftime arrived with the Eagles still up, 6-0.
“(The first half) was kind of like a fifth-grade fight,” East Bladen coach Robby Priest said. “But the defense looks good and we started to move the ball well. It’s a good starting point for us.”
That defense continued its success early in the second half, stopping the Vikings’ first possession with a three and out. Smith nearly gave East Bladen the ball on the first play, barely missing on a diving interception try.
The Eagles took over at their own 35 and started to put together another drive. Highlighted by an 18-yard run by Wooten, East Bladen used five plays to move to the Latta 32, but a 2-yard loss along with a 5-yard penalty and a sack that cost the Eagles 5 yards and set them up with a fourth down at the Vikings’ 40 — and Bedsole’s pass fell incomplete to fizzle the drive.
Latta began its next possession at its own 35 and started putting things together. Two runs and a pass took the Vikings to midfield before a long pass picked up 19 yards and another pass gained 29 yards to the East Bladen 2. The Vikings then ran the ball in for a touchdown and added a two-point conversion to take an 8-6 lead with 7:02 left in the game.
The Eagles, starting at their own 35, immediately began moving the ball against the Latta defense and a running clock.
McDowell gained 5 yards with a run and Bedsole found McDowell in the flat for a 21-yard catch and run to the Vikings’ 39. After a 2-yard run by Wooten, Bedsole hit Smith with a pass for 9 yards to the Latta 28 — followed by four straight runs, highlighted by a 22-yard gain by Wooten and a 2-yard scoring run by Wooten with just 27 seconds left to play.
The clock ran out before the Eagles could run a two-point try.
“It’s nice to finally get a win,” said Priest, who took a last-minute loss to Latta in the first Jamboree. “I was pleased with our offensive line — we’re hard to stop because we’re so big up front.
“I’d like to see better play from the quarterback spot, but (Bedsole) did better in the second half with his check downs,” he added.
Bedsole finished the game 2-for-4 for 30 yards and the interception.
Wooten led East Bladen’s ground game with 82 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries, while McDowell carried the ball six time for 31 yards.
Overall, the Eagles outgained Latta by a 167-106 margin.
East Bladen, after an open date on Aug. 18, will open the 2017 season with a non-conference challenge at Clinton on Aug. 25.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.