Latta nips Eagles with late TD

By: W. Curt Vincent -

LUMBERTON — A touchdown and two-point conversion in the final 30 seconds Thursday gave Latta, S.C., an 8-7 win over East Bladen in the opening football scrimmage of the inaugural Battle of the Carolinas at Alton Brooks Stadium on the campus of Lumberton High School.

Pass defense, a familiar Achilles heel of the Eagles, rose up again as the Vikings drove 64 yards — 46 of those yards coming through the air — for the winning score on a 12-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion also came through the air.

“We have a long way to go,” said East Bladen coach Robby Priest. “The defense played well most of the game, but where we’re young really stinks for us. We came here to win and we didn’t win.”

Latta opened the game with a 10-play drive that netted 40 yards before a bad snap knocked the Vikings back to their own 43 and forced a pseudo punt (the kicking game was suspended for the scrimmage, instead moving the ball 35 yards to simulate a punt).

The Eagles ran three plays out of its new spread offense and gained just 2 yards before punting — and that put the wraps on the spread offense for the evening.

“That spread stuff just isn’t us,” Priest said. “We’re a hit-you-in-the-mouth kind of team, and that’s what we need to get back to.”

After stopping Latta on three plays, highlighted by a combined sack from Chris Cromartie and Xavia McDowell, East Bladen went back to its familiar Wing T offense and the move gave the Eagles new life.

Ethan Hines carried for 21 yards on the first play, but East Bladen bogged down soon after.

A Vikings pass gained 13 yards, but the Eagles’ defense stepped up enough to stop any threat. Kyle Tatum nearly picked off a Latta pass just before the Vikings punted and gave East Bladen the ball at its own 20.

Quarterback Ty McMillian handed off the ball to Eian Hines on a jet sweep to the right and Hines was off to the races — zig-zagging through the Latta defense, then outrunning everyone to the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown.

Jesus Ramos booted the extra point and East Bladen was up, 7-0.

The Vikings got in two plays that gained 11 yards before a fumble was recovered by Derrick Burney and gave the Eagles possession at the Latta 28. But an intentional grounding moved the ball back to the Latta 43 and two runs gained just 5 yards. On fourth down, a fumble was picked up by Ethan Hines and run 17 yards — just 3 yards short of a first down. The play ended the first half.

“You’ve seen the movie “The Green Mile” with the dead man walking?” Priest said at halftime. “That’s what we’re like out there. No intensity.”

Latta opened the second half with a six-play drive that gained 44 yards but stalled at the East Bladen 36 when two passes fell incomplete. The Eagles took over and Eian Hines gained 14 yards, followed by a 21-yard gain by Ethan Hines out to the Latta 29. Eian Hines had a 9-yard pickup later in the drive, but a penalty and two runs lost 7 yards to stifle the drive.

The Vikings got a 33-yard pass play to move to the East Bladen 33 that was negated by a penalty and all but killed the drive and forced a punt.

East Bladen started at its own 35 and couldn’t find its rhythm after two consecutive penalties.

“We’re doing the moonwalk, going backwards,” Priest said as he paced the sideline.

McMillian’s third-down pass was intercepted and the Vikings took over on their own 36 with just over 3 minutes left to play — and manufactured the winning drive.

Three passes helped move the ball to the East Bladen 31 just before an 18-yard run took the Vikings to the Eagles’ 13. Two in complete passes and a run gained just a yard but, on fourth down, Latta connected for a 12-yard touchdown pass in the center of the end zone with 25 seconds left to play. A pass in the left flat gave the Vikings a two-point conversion for an 8-7 edge.

Starting at its own 20, East Bladen lost 10 yards on a penalty, McMillian ran for 9 yards and a fumble at the line ran out the clock.

“Penalties came at a bad time, but we’ll learn a lot from this once we see the film,” Priest said. “We may be a little hung over after going against two bigger teams (on Wednesday in a scrimmage). But we have to get better.”

Eian Hines led the East Bladen ground game with 104 yards on seven carries, including the 80-yard touchdown run. Ethan Hines gained 56 yards on six carries. Through the air, McMillian was 0-for-4 with the interception.

W. Curt Vincent