ELIZABETHTOWN — As expected, the challenges increase with every step deeper into the state’s Class 2-A football playoffs. And this week, East Bladen not only has the challenge of a 9-3 Ayden-Grifton team but also a 100-mile road trip into Chargers territory on Friday.
The 8-4 Eagles, seeded No. 3 in the playoffs, disposed of Farmville Central out of the Eastern Carolina Conference last week, 62-42, in the opening round thanks to a career night from senior running back Ethan Hines, who rushed for 294 yards and five touchdowns on 31 carries.
But East Bladen coach Robby Priest knows the stakes have gotten higher.
“Talk about athletes,” he said when referring to Ayden-Grifton, which is seeded No. 2 and the top team out of the Eastern Carolina Conference. “They will spread you out and it’s off to the races.”
Ayden-Grifton advanced to the second round after knocking off Red Springs last week, 46-32.
The Chargers offense has scored 443 points over its 12 games this season (37 points per game) and are led by senior quarterback Jordan Collins, who has numerous weapons at both running back and wide receiver — the most dangerous may be senior running back Modica Whitehurst.
“They have several track stars,” Priest said. “Our defense will be tested hard.”
The Ayden-Grifton defense has allowed 286 points this season (24 points per game) and will offer some serious size in junior lineman Davon Diggs, 6-2 and 305; senior lineman Cameron Moye, 6-0 and 295; junior lineman Antrevius Harper, 5-8 and 285; and senior lineman Zack Swanson, 6-3 and 265.
Priest said Friday’s game will be a matchup of different styles.
“We haven’t seen a team spread it out like they will,” he said. “But they haven’t seen a team that runs the ball like we do — so it’ll be interesting, especially for the fans.”
The East Bladen keys to success on Friday hinge around the usual list of executing, avoiding turnovers and penalties — and one more.
“We are going to have to tackle in open space,” Priest said. “If we don’t, they’ll be gone.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Ayden-Grifton High.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.