DUNN — After barely sniffing Midway territory in the first quarter on Monday night, East Bladen scored once in each of the remaining quarters and relied on a stubborn defense to post a 20-6 win in the Four County Conference opener.
The win improved the Eagles to 5-0 overall, 1-0 in the conferemce. The Raiders fall to 4-1, 0-1.
After getting postponed on Friday because of the threat of severe weather that never materialized, East Bladen was anything but sharp and efficient to start the game. All three of the Eagles’ possessions in the opening quarter were deep in their own territory, while Midway was happy to be starting all of their possessions near midfield or in East Bladen territory.
The Raiders scored first when they took over after a punt on the East Bladen 38. The Eagles’ defense was put back on its heels and Midway took advantage with three running plays — the final one a 5-yard touchdown 1:02 into the second stanza. East Bladen’s Ty McMillian blocked the extra point, but East Bladen trailed for the first time this season, 6-0.
Midway’s touchdown apparently woke up the Eagles’ offense. Starting from their best spot of the night so far — at their own 35 — East Bladen got 26 yards on three carries from Eian Hines and, moments later, Hines raced 34 yards to the Midway 5. The ball came loose, but Zach Johnson fell on it for the Eagles.
Ethan Hines carried the ball to the Raiders’ 1, then busted in for the touchdown. Jesus Ramos booted the extra point and East Bladen took a 7-6 lead with 7:32 left in the half.
The Eagles’ defense rose up and stopped Midway for a three and out, then took over after a punt at the East Bladen 20.
On the first play, Eian Hines gained 5 yards, but stayed on the ground writhing in pain from an ankle twist. He was removed from the game and never returned.
“We kept him on the sidelines mostly as a precaution,” said East Bladen coach Robby Priest. “We have a quick turnaround for Friday’s game, and we’re hoping he’s ready.”
Down a twin, East Bladen’s running attack got spread out between Ethan Hines, who had been having a tough time finding running room, along with fullback Nikita Owens and Kyle Tatum, who took Eian Hines’ place. The three-headed monster produced — Owens gained 26 yards on three carries and Tatum picked up 25 yards on two carries that helped carry the Eagles inside the Midway 20 before a pass into the end zone with 41 seconds on the clock was intercepted.
East Bladen took the second half’s opening kickoff to the 42 and began a nine-play drive lasting more than 5 minutes. Highlighting the drive was a 20-yard run by Owens and 9-yard run by Tatum. But facing a fourth down at the Raiders’ 16, the Eagles fizzled and turned the ball over on downs.
Midways shot itself in the foot twice on its next possession with penalties and could go nowhere. A punt gave East Bladen the ball at the Raiders’ 45, where the Eagles needed just two plays to cover the distance. Ethan Hines picked up 6 to the Midway 39 and Tatum squirted through the line, cut to the right and found pay dirt for a 39-yard touchdown with 3:46 left in the third quarter. The PAT was no good, but East Bladen led, 13-6.
The Raiders went backwards again on their next possession thanks to a penalty and a big sack by Johnathan Melvin. The ensuing punt gave East Bladen the ball out near midfield, where the Eagles never got anything started and lost the ball on downs at the Midway 45.
East Bladen’s defense kept the pressure on, allowing the Raiders little to nothing before two straight fumbles — Midway recovering the first one, then Lahkeyd Lesane fell on the second one for East Bladen at the Eagles’ 43.
East Bladen needed just three plays to march the 57 yards, the final one a 52-yard touchdown run by Ethan Hines. Ramos kicked the point after and gave East Bladen a 20-6 lead with 9:13 left in the game.
The defense again loomed large for the Eagles, as Melvin got another sack and East Bladen held on a fourth-down play to take over at the Midway 42. Eight plays took the Eagles to the Raiders’ 1 — highlighted by a 15-yard and 13-yard run by Owens — but a fourth and goal run lost a yard and turned the ball over to Midway.
The Raiders barely moved the ball out near its 10 before punting and the Eagles took a knee to run out the clock.
“For a little bit it looked like a fifth-grade fight,” Priest said. “One was scared and the other was glad of it. But we finally settled down and got going.”
Ethan Hines led East Bladen with 91 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, while Owens had 85 yards n 17 carries and Tatum had 81 yards and a touchdown on 10 carried. Before leaving the game, Eian Hines had 70 yards on eight carries. East Bladen outrushed the Raiders by a 322-58 margin.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.