ELIZABETHTOWN — East Bladen’s Eagles in the state football playoffs has become about the same as fall following summer. And once again, Lenon Fisher Stadium will play host to an opening round Class 2-A contest on Friday — this one between East Bladen and the Graham Red Devils.
The No. 7 seed Eagles reached the playoffs after a 9-2 regular season that saw them finish third in the Four County Conference, while No. 10 Graham will come to town sporting a 4-7 record out of the Mid-State Conference.
“They played the likes of Cummings and Jordan-Matthews tough,” said East Bladen coach Robby Priest, “so they aren’t a pushover for anyone.”
Offensively, the Red Devils don’t possess any big numbers. Operating primarily out of a shotgun spread with some read option and are led by senior quarterback Jamie Newman, who has thrown for 667 yards and eight touchdowns, along with senior running back Daniel Graves, who has rushed for 614 yards and 12 touchdowns on just 67 carries. He has also caught 15 passes for 359 yards and two touchdowns.
“He (Graves) has been hurt, but I’m sure he’ll be out there, so we’ll have to be disciplined to contain him,” Priest said. “And I think their quarterback has already signed to play at Wake Forest.”
As a team, Graham has rushed for just 812 yards and 19 touchdowns this season. The Red Devils have scored 314 points in 11 games.
Defensively, Graham will operate mostly out of a 50 with variations, and their leaders have astronomical tackling numbers — junior middle linebacker Taymond Reed has 153 tackles, junior outside linebacker Germar Buchanan has 92 tackles and junior free safety Eric Brown has 91 tackles. As a team, Graham has 10 sacks but has allowed 388 points this season.
“They are pretty athletic with a quarterback who can run and throw and a running back who is hard to handle in open space,” Priest said. “And their linebackers are always busy.”
Priest added that the Eagles will have to do all the little things to be successful on Friday.
“We have to do what we do better than we have been,” Priest said. “We have to get off to a fast start, we can’t let drives stall because of silly penalties or turnovers and we have to block and tackle well.”
East Bladen will get some help this week with the return of starting quarterback Ty McMillian, who has been on the sidelines for several weeks with an injury.
“Ty is 100 percent,” Priest said. “He’s done everything right, everything asked of him and he’s ready to go.”
Priest added that two call-ups from the jayvee — sophomore Xavier Wooten and freshman James Higgins, both running backs and linebackers — will “continue our youth movement and see valuable time.”
A win on Friday would pit the Eagles against the winner of the No. 2 seed Southwest Edgecombe versus No. 15 Farmville Central on Friday, Nov. 20.
This week’s game will be broadcast live on Cool 105.3 FM by the Bladen Sports Network crew of Ricky Leinwand, Robert Hester, Dan Allen, Joe Melvin and Ron Daniel. The pre-game show starts at 7 p.m. with the kickoff at 7:30 p.m.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.