ELIZABETHTOWN — The Eagles of East Bladen, one of three Four County Conference teams still alive in the state football playoffs, will travel to Pinetops on Friday for a date with Southwest Edgecombe in the Class 2-A East’s second round.
Coach Robby Priest had two words to describe the 11-1 Cougars out of the Eastern Plains Conference, seeded No. 2: “They’re loaded.”
Southwest Edgecombe dismantled Farmville Central in the first round of the playoffs by a 42-3 margin. East Bladen advanced to the second round with a hard-fought, 35-34 overtime win over Graham.
The Cougars’ offense is nothing short of explosive, scoring 433 points in 12 games this season. Operating out of a wishbone with plenty of variations, senior quarterback Tucker Pridgen is 6-foot, 4-inches tall weighing 200 — and he’s as likely to run the ball or hand off as he is to throw.
Through the air, Pridgen is 29-of-53 for 530 yards and six touchdowns. His favorite target is senior wide receiver Quontellas Norwood, who has 17 catches for 280 yards and five touchdowns.
But when he hands off, it’s usually to senior running back Marcus Williams, who has put up astounding numbers. Carrying the ball 218 times this season, Williams has rushed for 1,771 yards and 30 touchdowns. Senior running back Keanan Williams must also be accounted for … he’s carried the ball 121 times for 835 yards and seven touchdowns. As a team, the Cougars have rushed for 3, 840 yards and 54 touchdowns.
“They are senior led and have lots of speed,” Priest said. “We’ll have to slow them down right from the start.”
On defense, Southwest Edgecombe will show a basic 40 and is led by junior middle linebacker Dylan Hodges with 102 tackles, senior defensive end Devonte Hyman with 82 tackles and five sacks, and senior defensive end Elijah Andrews with four sacks. The Cougars have given up 178 points this season.
“Their front six look really good,” Priest said, “and they are fast in the secondary.”
The keys for East Bladen, 10-2 and seeded No. 7, on Friday continue to be doing the fundamentals well and taking advantage of opportunities.
“We also have to eat the clock and shorten the game,” Priest said. “And staying out of third and long situations will be important because we don’t have plays for third and 15 or third and 10.
“Of course, we need to avoid turnovers and bad penalties,” he added.
Health-wise, the Eagles are hoping to be at or near full strength, but Priest won’t know fo0r sure until game time.
“It’s hard to say right now,” he said. “But if we’re not, we’ve gotten pretty used to how things are and been able to get some younger players experience. We’ll be OK.”
On the line Friday will be a Thanksgiving weekend date in the third round of the playoffs against the winner of the game between No. 3 seed, 10-2 Fairmont versus No. 6 seed, 7-5 South Columbus.
Friday’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 kickoff following at 7:30 p.m.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.