PINETOPS — No. 2 seed Southwest Edgecombe and No. 7 seed East Bladen slugged it out in the first quarter of Friday’s Class 2-A East second round game, but the Cougars maintained the momentum, scoring 34 unanswered points to claim a 41-21 win and move into the third round.
The Eagles’ season came to a close at 10-3, while Southwest Edgecombe improved to 12-1.
East Bladen opened the game with fireworks, as Ethan Hines hauled in the opening kickoff at the 16 and zig-zagged his way through the Southwest Edgecombe defense for an 84-yard touchdown return. Jesus Ramos added the extra point and the Eagles led 7-0 with just 17 ticks off the clock.
But the Cougars answered with some fireworks of their own. Taking over on its own 43, Southwest Edgecombe got a 55-yard touchdown run from Marcus Williams (who rushed for 247 yards and four TDs in the game) on the second play and the point after knotted things up with 10:51 left in the first quarter.
East Bladen got the ball at its own 42 and began an eight-play drive that opened with a 26-yard run by Xavia McDowell and, after a pass interference call in the end zone gave the Eagles a first down at the Cougars’ 8, McDowell carried the ball to the 2, Kyle Tatum took it to the 1 and McDowell scored the 1-yard touchdown with 7:04 on the clock. Ramos added the PAT for a 14-7 edge.
Back came the Cougs. Starting deep in its own territory at the 11, Southwest Edgecombe needed just four plays and an East Bladen penalty to find the end zone. The point after was missed, but the Cougars were within 14-13 with 5:21 left in the first quarter.
The Eagles answered with a 12-play drive from their own 17 highlighted by a 15-yard penalty against the Cougars and a 28-yard run by Hines. East Bladen found itself on the Southwest Edgecombe 21 facing a fourth down, but quarterback Ty McMillian’s pass was intercepted in the end zone and returned out to the Cougars’ 20 early in the second quarter. A 15-yard penalty against the Eagles gave Southwest Edgecombe the ball at its own 35.
The Cougars went on a nine-play, 65-yard drive that culminated with a 15-yard touchdown pass over the middle with 6:58 left in the half. The two-point conversion try was good and gave the Cougars a 21-14 lead.
East Bladen couldn’t get anything cooking and punted the ball away, giving Southwest Edecombe possession at its own 41. Another nine-play drive found pay dirt with just 10 seconds before intermission. The extra point gave the Cougars a 28-14 lead.
“We have to get a stop (to start the second half), get the ball and score,” East Bladen coach Robby Priest said at halftime. Neither happened.
Southwest Edgecombe took the opening possession at its own 40 and went 60 yards on seven plays, scoring with 9:04 left in the third quarter. The point after upped the lead to 35-14.
The Eagles sputtered on its first possession of the second half and a fourth-down pass near midfield was intercepted, giving the Cougars possession at their own 48.
East Bladen appeared to have Southwest Edgecombe stopped for the first time all game, but a fake punt on fourth and 2 was successful, giving the Cougs a first down at the Eagles’ 30. Five plays later, Southwest Edgecombe scored again — Derrick Burney blocked the point after for East Bladen, but the Cougars’ lead went to 41-14 with 3:07 left in the third period.
The Eagles went three and out and punted, but for the first time all night, East Bladen got a stop. Southwest Edgecombe moved just 7 yards in four plays and gave the ball back to the Eagles at their own 30 early in the fourth quarter.
East Bladen suddenly found new life and began moving the ball. Nikita Owens ran for 11 yards, Tatum rushed for 14 and Hines picked up 9 to take the Eagles to the Southwest Edgecombe 36. After a failed pass, East Bladen ground its way to the Cougars’ 1, where Tatum bulled his way in for a touchdown with 6:23 to play. Ramos added the point after to pull East Bladen to within 41-21.
But the Eagles couldn’t threaten again.
“We had our chances and couldn’t take advantage,” Priest said. “They have a good ball club and we couldn’t get stops.
“But I’m pleased with how we played,” he added. “I just hate that the season has ended with a loss for a good senior class.”
McDowell led East Bladen’s ground game with 73 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, while Tatum had 45 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Owens gained 37 yards on six carries and Hines had 37 yards on nine carries.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.