ELIZABETHTOWN — In one of the most bizarrely officiated games, what started out as a first-half runaway on Friday turned into a second-half barn burner. And when the clock finally found all zeroes, East Bladen had escaped with a 34-27 non-conference win over Class 4-A Wilmington Laney.
The victory finished the Eagles’ non-conference schedule with a perfect 4-0 mark, while the Buccaneers dropped to 1-4.
East Bladen opened the game by stopping Laney on three plays and a bad snap on fourth down never allowed the Bucs to get a punt off, instead losing 11 yards and giving the Eagles the ball at the Laney 38.
East Bladen needed 10 plays to punch the ball in, though it appeared as if the Eagles had scored a couple of times from the 1 before Nikita Owens finally did get the touchdown with 9 minutes left in the first quarter. Jesus Ramos kicked the extra point for a 7-0 East Bladen lead.
Laney once again went three and out, and a 17-yard punt gave the Eagles possession at their own 39. From there, East Bladen went on a long 17-play, 58-yard march that fizzled out at the Buccaneers’ 3 early in the second quarter.
Laney moved the ball to the East Bladen 45 thanks in a large part to 35 penalty yards against East Bladen. But the Eagles defense stepped up and Xavia McDowell sacked the Laney quarterback for a big loss and caused a fumble that was recovered by East Bladen’s Phillip Rhodie at the Bucs’ 32.
The Eagles needed only three plays to find pay dirt, with Eian Hines carrying the ball for the final 23 yards. Ramos booted the PAT for a 14-0 lead with 5:43 left in the half.
On the ensuing kickoff, Kyle Tatum tapped an onsides kick up the middle and recovered it himself at the Laney 45. From there, East Bladen used 11 plays to drive the 45 yards, scoring the touchdown when quarterback Ty McMillian hit Zach Johnson with an 8-yard pass in the end zone. Ramos’ kick gave the Eagles a 21-0 lead with 34 seconds left in the half.
East Bladen offered up a bend but don’t break defense, and Laney took advantage, moving the ball in big chunks to the Eagles’ 1 with the clock stopped at .3 seconds left. On the final play of the half, the Bucs ran the ball in for a touchdown and the extra point cut the deficit to 21-7.
“We looked a little rusty and we haven’t hit the big plays yet — plus that late touchdown kind of woke us up,” East Bladen coach Robby Priest said. “But we’re starting to get things right. We’ll see how we do on our first possession (of the second half).”
The Eagles opened the second half with the ball on their own 20, where Ethan Hines ran for 10 yards and four plays later ran for 33 yards to the Laney 29. But on second down from the Bucs 25, East Bladen fumbled the ball away.
Laney then went 75 yards in six plays, scoring on a 7-yard pass with 5:30 left in the third quarter. The point after pulled the Buccaneers to within 21-14.
Laney’s kicker then kicked three straight kicks out of bounds, moving the Bucs back 5 yards each time. When a kickoff finally stayed in bounds, East Bladen was starting from its own 49. The Eagles got a 14-yard run from Eian Hines during a seven-play drive that culminated with a 9-yard touchdown run by Eian Hines with 1:56 left in the third quarter. Ramos added the PAT for a 28-14 Eagles lead.
But the Buccaneers answered quickly. Starting from their own 12 yardline, Laney needed just four plays to find the end zone — the scoring play coming on a 54-yard run. The point after pulled the Bucs to within 28-21 with 23 seconds left in the quarter.
Back came the Eagles.
Taking possession at its own 19, East Bladen began a eight-play, 81-yard drive that featured a 41-yard pass from McMillian to Sincere Smith, a 10-yard run by Ethan Hines and an 11-yard touchdown run by Ethan Hines with 9:08 left in the game. Ramos’ kick was wide, but East Bladen led 34-21.
Laney’s next possession, starting at its own 25, was marred by several penalties but also included a fourth-down conversion and a 12-yard touchdown run. The point after was blocked by East Bladen’s Derrick Burney, but the Eagles’ lead was sliced to 34-27 with 6:10 left to play.
After a kickoff penalty against Laney, the Eagles covered the onsides kick at the Bucs’ 44, where they started a 10-play drive that was highlighted by a fourth-down conversion at the Bucs’ 9 and another fourth-down try that failed at the Laney 8.
The Buccaneers took over with 1:35 left in the game and quickly moved the ball to the East Bladen 42 before three straight passes went awry and ended the threat. East Bladen took a knee to finish the game.
“We let them back in the game, but we needed this kind of game to see what we’re made of,” Priest said. “It’s good to learn some things in a win; we saw some areas that we’ll need to improve.
“They kept us bottled up pretty good most of the game,” he added. “But we played well enough to win. You can’t look at their record … they’re a pretty good team.”
Ethan Hines led East Bladen’s ground game with 170 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. Eian Hines had 94 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, while Owens gained 54 yards and scored a touchdown on 20 carries. Through the air, McMillian was 2-for-5 for 49 yards, with Smith and Johnson each catching a pass.
On Friday, East Bladen will open Four County Conference play on the road at Union.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-863-4162.