ELIZABETHTOWN — Almost exactly four years to the day, the East Bladen football season came to a heartbreaking end at the Southwest Onslow 1-yard line in the second round of the NCHSAA Class 2-A playoffs. It was there that the Eagles’ game-winning drive was thwarted by a fumble with 22 seconds left to play that bounded through the end zone and allowed the Stallions to escape with a 27-24 victory.
“That was a tough one,” East Bladen coach Robby Priest said. “I’m glad we’re getting them here.”
Still, Priest knows the Stallions will pose plenty of challenges. He also knows East Bladen is 0-3 against Southwest Onslow.
The Eagles, now 12-1, advanced to Friday’s third round of the Class 2-A East playoffs with a 68-28 win over Green Central; the Stallions, now 10-3 and out of the Coastal 8 Conference, advanced after a 63-28 win over Southwest Edgecombe. Both teams are working on a nine-game winning streak.
“Every round gets tougher, and they’re a good team,” Priest said. “They have a lot of size and athleticism.”
On offense, the Stallions operate out of the Wing-T and have the same philosophy as East Bladen — lean toward the run and prefer to throw when they want, not when they have to.
That ground game is led by a three-headed monster with running back Josh Soliz, running back Jakoby Johnson and fullback Caleb Mahone — each of whom has rushed for more than 1,100 yards and collectively represent 45 of the team’s 56 rushing touchdowns.
When they do throw, quarterback Dharyus Thomas has passed for more than 400 yards and seven touchdowns, three of which went to Johnson out of the backfield.
Southwest Onslow has scored 521 points this season.
On defense, the Stallions will set up in a 50 set with 11 players often in the box to stop the run. They are led by tackle Derek Green (six sacks), defensive end Matt Barkes (4.5 sacks), defensive end D’Angelo McKinnie (4.5 sacks) and linebackers Soliz (89 tackles) and Johnson (83 tackles).
Southwest Onslow has allowed 208 points thus far.
“They play downhill and are very quick to the ball,” Priest said. “We’ll have our hands full.”
He added that, with the Thanksgiving holiday and three days out of school, his staff has been emphasizing to the Eagles not to allow distractions to creep in and to focus on the task at hand.
“We played better last week, but this is a different team we’re facing so we’ll have different things to react to,” Priest said. “We need to keep working on things we always do to get better — but this week we’ll need to step it up a notch.”
Kickoff at Lenon Fisher Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or email@example.com.