ELIZABETHTOWN — Fumbles helped put East Bladen in an early hole and visiting Southwest Onslow shut down the Eagles running game — thanks to knocking Xavier Wooten out of the game in the first quarter — and the Stallions went on to post a 30-13 win in the third round of the NCHSAA Class 2-A playoffs Friday.
The loss ended the Eagles’ season at 12-2, while Southwest Onslow advances to the East Region finals against Wallace-Rose Hill.
East Bladen opened the game with a three and out, and a 32-yard punt set the Stallions up on their own 32. They also went three and out, but the ensuing punt was fumbled and Southwest Onslow recovered at the East Bladen 42. a 30-yard pass moved the ball to the Eagles’ 12, but three runs gained just 3 yards — forcing a 27-yard field goal that was good for a 3-0 lead with 5:50 left in the quarter.
East Bladen started its second possession at its own 28 and, despite losing Wooten on the third play from scrimmage, managed to move the ball to the Stallions’ 43 before another fumble was lost.
Southwest Onslow needed just one handoff to find the end zone on a 46-yard gallop. The extra point gave the visitors a 10-0 lead with 1:31 left in the first quarter.
The Eagles, starting from their own 37, hit a big play on the first snap — a 32-yard pass from Quinton Bedsole to Sincere Smith — followed by a Stallions penalty, 9-yard run by James Higgins and a 7-yard touchdown run by Higgins on the first play of the second quarter. Pierce Melvin’s point after pulled East Bladen to within 10-7 with 11:55 left before the half.
The two teams traded a pair of punts — thanks to a shared sack by the Eagles Devonta McIver and Higgins — before the Stallions took advantage of a 14-yard East Bladen to march 38 yards for a touchdown on seven running plays. The PAT was good and the visitors took a 17-7 lead with 1:10 left in the half.
The Eagles started from their own 36 and two runs by Higgins moved the ball to the Southwest Onslow 41 before a Bedsole pass was intercepted as halftime expired.
“We’ve been down before and they know what they have to do,” East Bladen coach Robby Priest said at halftime.
The Stallions took the opening possession at their own 42 and went on an East Bladen-like drive — 11 plays, 58 yards, one fourth-down conversion, 6:58 minutes — to score with 5:02 left in the third quarter. The extra point was botched, but the visitors were up, 23-7.
East Bladen started at its own 39 and seemed to have something going, but a 14-yard pass from Bedsole to Smith ended up getting fumbled, recovered by the Stallions and returned to the Eagles’ 20. But the East Bladen defense pushed the visitors backwards and, on a fourth and forever, Southwest Onslow punted to the East Bladen 14.
Bedsole hit another big pass to Smith — this one for 31 yards — to help move the Eagles to midfield, but a fourth-and-4 run came up a yard short and East Bladen turned the ball over on downs early in the fourth quarter.
A sack by McIver helped the Eagles stop Southwest Onslow and Smith returned the ensuing punt 28 yards to the Eagles’ 48. But Bedsole was intercepted again to thwart any East Bladen momentum.
The Eagles’ defense stiffened once more and East Bladen took over at its own 25. Bedsole found Shy Pone streaking down the right sideline for a 44-yard pass, but the Eagles could do nothing more and turned the ball over on downs again.
Another East Bladen defensive stop gave the ball back to the offense, but a 39-yard punt pushed the Eagles back to their own 10. A 14-yard run by Xavia McDowell gave the Eagles some breathing room, but the next three plays gained just a yard. On fourth and 9, Bedsole was swarmed and sacked, turning the ball over on downs at the 13.
Southwest Onslow scored on its first play and the PAT gave the Stallions a 30-7 advantage with 1:31 left to play.
Eric Chancy gathered in the kickoff at the Eagles’ 30 and zig-zagged up the middle of the field for a 70-yard touchdown return. A two-point conversion failed, but East Bladen was within 30-13.
Southwest Onslow ran out the clock from there.
“We did a lot of things out of character tonight,” Priest said. “Third round (of the playoffs), you can’t have those kinds of penalties and turnovers.
“We also lost a leader — linebacker and No. 1 running back (in Wooten),” he added. “That changed this for us early.”
East Bladen was held to just 80 yards rushing in the game — led by Higgins with 38 yards on seven carries. Higgins was also knocked out of the game with an injury in the second half.
Through the air, Bedsole was 4-of-15 for 121 yards with two interceptions.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.