VINEGAR HILL — The back and forth nail-biter, easily worthy of a Class 2-A championship game rather than a third-rounder, came down to a single gutsy call with just under a minute left to play on Friday — and, for South Columbus coach Russell Dove, it paid off.
The No. 1 seed Stallions had just scored a touchdown to pull within 41-40 against No. 3 seed East Bladen, and rather than kick the game-tying extra point and hope for overtime, Dove never blinked. The Stallions ran to the left and found the end zone to take what turned out to be the final 42-41 margin.
South Columbus, now 12-2, will host Edenton Holmes on Friday at 7:30 in the East Region final. The Eagles took the heart-breaking loss to end their season at 9-5.
The game started out as if it would be a track meet.
The Stallions took the opening possession at their own 29 and needed just three plays to score 50 seconds into the game. The point after gave them a 7-0 lead.
East Bladen got a 29-yard kickoff return by Eian Hines and took over at the South Columbus 46.Xavier Wooten rumbled 40 yards on the first play and, two plays later, Ethan Hines scored on a 3-yard run. The PAT was blocked, but the Eagles were within 7-6 just 2:01 into the contest.
The Stallions moved from their own 34 to the East Bladen 33 before turning the ball over on downs, but the Eagles couldn’t take advantage and punted to the South Columbus 19.
The home team marched the 81 yards quickly thanks to a 50-yard run on the second play. Six runs later, the Stallions found pay dirt with just 25 seconds left in the first quarter. The extra point gave them a 14-6 edge.
East Bladen responded with a 62-yard, 13-play drive that was highlighted by a 19-yard and 13-yard run from Wooten that helped take the Eagles to the South Columbus 14. But on fourth and 10, quarterback Quinton Bedsole found a diving Wooten with a pass in the end zone for a touchdown with 6:18 left in the half. A two-point try failed and East Bladen trailed, 14-12.
South Columbus couldn’t move far and a 43-yard punt set the Eagles up on their own 20 — and Wooten took care of the 80 yards with a race down the left side to the end zone for a score. Bedsole hit Eian Hines with the two-point conversion pass and East Bladen took a 20-14 lead.
But the Stallions answered on their next possession. An eight-play, 63-yard march gave South Columbus a touchdown with 34 seconds left in the half and the point-after gave the Stallions a 21-20 advantage.
The Eagles got the ball at the 29 to start the second half, but couldn’t move far and set up to punt. The snap went over Melvin’s head and he was forced to chase it down and get off a quick kick that traveled 25 yards — but the Stallions hit Melvin after the punt and were penalized 15 yards, giving East Bladen a first down at the South Columbus 49.
Five runs moved the Eagles to the South Columbus 19 before two successive penalties pushed them back to the 29. But Bedsole hit Michael Walter with an 11-yard pass and Ethan Hines ran the ball three straight times for the remaining 18 yards and a touchdown — the final one a 10-yard run up the middle that was bounced to the left for a score. A two-point try failed, but East Bladen was up, 26-21, with 4:30 left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Stallions were stopped at their own 41 and East Bladen’s Kyle Tatum came away with the ball — only to have the referees rule the play dead. South Columbus went on to march the 59 yards in seven plays, scoring with 58 seconds left in the quarter. The point after gave the Stallions a 28-26 edge.
East Bladen went three and out and punted early in the fourth frame, only to see the Stallions move 70 yards in eight plays for a touchdown. The kick went wide left, but South Columbus led 34-26 with 6:48 left in the game.
The Eagles took possession at its own 41 and, after a 2-yard loss on the first play, Bedsole found Eian Hines with a pass in the flat that he turned into a 61-yard zig-zagging touchdown. Bedsole then hit Eian Hines on the two-point conversion pass to knot the game at 34-34 with 5:57 left in the game.
Wooten kicked the ball off deep and, on the stop, Eian Hines recovered a Stallions fumble at the South Columbus 33. Four runs by Ethan Hines gained 15 yards and four runs by Wooten gained 18 yards — including the 1-yard touchdown run with 2:01 to play. Melvin’s kick was good and East Bladen led, 41-34.
South Columbus began its final possession at its own 20 and three runs took the Stallions out to their own 43. Looking at a third and 1, South Columbus launched a pass down the middle and completed a 47-yard play to the Eagles’ 10. One play later … touchdown with 57 seconds left in regulation, setting up Dove’s gutsy call for a two-point try.
But East Bladen didn’t let Stallions fans relax. Taking possession at its own 35, East Bladen moved to the South Columbus 29 before a fourth-and-5 pass went awry to end the game.
“Good game, but just a consolation prize for us,” said East Bladen coach Robby Priest. “There were some bright spots, but we had to stop them and we didn’t. We just didn’t make the plays at the end and they did.”
Wooten led the East Bladen rushing attack with 206 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, while Ethan Hines had 82 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
Through the air, Bedsole was 6-of-12 for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Wooten had two catches for 29 yards, Ethan Hines had two catches for 32 yards, Eian Hines had a catch for 61 yards and Walter had a catch for 11 yards.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.