Eagles manhandle Clinton for 35-16 win

CLINTON — The story Friday night was all about defense — what the East Bladen defense did to the Clinton offense and what the East Bladen offense did to the Clinton offense. At the end of that story, the visiting Eagles had earned it first win over the Dark Horses since 2014 (a 27-21 overtime final), 35-16.

The season-opening, non-conference victory put East Bladen at 1-0 and may have served notice to the Three Rivers Conference that the Eagles will be a force. Clinton, meanwhile, found itself in an unfamiliar territory: 0-2.

The Eagles got a gift to start the game when B.J. Robinson fellon a Clinton miscue at the Eagles’ 47. From there, East Bladen used 13 plays to move the 53 yards, with James Higgins carrying the ball for the final 4 yards and a touchdown. Pierce Melvin kicked the extra point for a 7-0 Eagles lead with 5:20 left in the first quarter.

After stopping the Dark Horses’ next possession, East Bladen got started at its own 44 and ran 11 plays that straddled the first and second quarters — the final one a 1-yard touchdown run by Xavier Wooten. Melvin’s kick was good for a 14-0 lead with 8:27 left in the half.

The two teams traded punts and Clinton finally put together a scoring drive, moving 65 yards to find the end zone and pull within 14-7 with 1:03 on the clock.

The Dark Horses then picked off an East Bladen pass at the Eagles’ 33 with just 7 seconds left. A 15-yard run and 15-yard penalty against the Eagles put the ball at the East Bladen 9, and Clinton kicked a 26-yard field goal to go into halftime trailing by just 14-10.

East Bladen opened the second half with a 54-yard march that ultimately was snuffed out by another interception, but after stopping Clinton’s threat deep in Eagles territory, East Bladen went on a 71-yard scoring run — with James Higgins racing 66 yards for the touchdown. Melvin’s point after gave East Bladen a 21-10 edge with 2:35 left in the third quarter.

The Eagles’ kick-off team was hit with two penalties before a squib kick gave Clinton the ball at the East Bladen 47. From there, the Dark Horses moved the ball to the Eagles’ 1 as the clock ended the third quarter. Clinton finished off the drive on the first play of the fourth period and, after a two-point conversion was stopped, had pulled to within 21-16.

Shy Pone put East Bladen in terrific position with a 76-yard kickoff return to the Dark Horses’ 24. Xavia McDowell carried the ball to the Clinton 12 and, moments later, Wooten scored on a 3-yard run. Melvin booted the extra point to put East Bladen up 28-16 with 10:24 left in the game.

Clinton’s next possession was stopped by Sincere Smith’s defense on a fourth-down pass and East Bladen took over at its own 42.

Wooten carried the ball for 49 yards on four carries, the final one a 26-yard touchdown run with 2:24 left to play. Melvin’s PAT put the final point on the board for the 19-point win.

“Defense and offense played well, and special teams was decent, too,” said East Bladen coach Robby Priest.

The Eagles outgained Clinton by a 350-222 margin.

Leading the way for East Bladen was Wooten, who gained 155 yards on 24 carries, and Higgins, who had 108 yards on 10 carries. Through the air, quarterback Quinton Bedsole was 1-for-3 for 24 yards and the two picks.

East Bladen will host North Brunswick in the second and final non-conference game on Friday at 7 p.m.