ELIZABETHTOWN — Margin for error is small.
East Bladen’s defense nearly made it big enough Friday night in a 14-0 season-opening nonconference loss to visiting Clinton in Lenon Fisher Stadium. This one left a mark, quite ugly in fact, and its sting can only serve as motivation.
“I believe we could have been better,” said junior linebacker Kasey Price.
He and junior Lawson Hester had second-half fumble recoveries, and senior Shy Pone picked off a first-quarter pass for a defense that bottled up the Dark Horses throughout the night. Clinton’s second-quarter score was a punch-in of a lost fumble inside the 10-yard-line; quarterback Knowlydge Evans broke two tackles to scamper 27 yards on the other in the third quarter.
Otherwise, the Horses were thoroughly corraled.
East Bladen held their East Central Conference guests to one first down over the final 18 minutes, and that was generated by a punt fake just over two minutes from the finish. Another Clinton punt situation was also pivotal.
The Three Rivers Conference hosts trailed 14-0 and, having been denied on downs at the Clinton 31 its previous possesssion, marched inside the Horses’ 15-yard-line on the opening snaps of the final period for its deepest penetration. Junior Jordan Robinson twice found no running room needing 5 yards on third and fourth downs, but Clinton failed to move the chains from inside its 20.
Mohamed Kaba’s ensuing punt sailed high and long to Pone’s left near midfield. When it wasn’t caught, the roll gave Kaba a 55-yard kick, flipping field position and leaving East Bladen at its 28-yard-line with 9:03 to go.
Hester’s recovery at the East Bladen 34 with 6:40 remaining was yet another breath of life. But the line of junior Xavier McKoy, junior Jordan Stanley, senior Davis Alsup, sophomore Brady Hollingsworth, senior Tyreese McElveen and junior Rashard Willis was stymied up front.
“We need to pick up more assignments on our blocking,” Hester said. “Defensively, we needed to check them more.”
Price’s recovery at the Clinton 33 with 2:05 to go in the third was a virtual gift, Evans fumbling it away without being hit.
“From that point on, we turned it up,” Price said. “We went harder, wanted it more, got hungry.
“We feed off each other’s energy. If we do good, everybody feeds into it.”
The perennial 2-A football powers combined for 10 penalties, eight fumbles and six turnovers in the mistake columns. Neither cracked 200 yards of offense, with Evans running for 92 and Eagles senior Eric Chancy churning for 74.
Explosion plays were scarce. The Eagles counted only a 32-yard run by Chancy and a 39-yard kickoff return by Pone that got the added boosted of a 15-yard Clinton penalty. The Dark Horses (1-1), shut out last week at Cape Fear, only produced Evans’ touchdown run and his late 35-yard dash from one of the punt team’s upback positions.
“The defense, they flew around and gave us a chance to win even though we had so many mistakes,” East Bladen head coach Robby Priest said of a group led up front by senior Tyvon Townsend, Stanley, junior Zac Hester, senior Jordan Payton, Lawson Hester, Price, senior Dayveon Washington, Chancy, sophomore Rasean McKoy and Robinson.
“We knew we had to stop their run,” Priest continued. “They want to throw when they want to, not when they have to. I was impressed with their quarterback, with his toughness.”
He lamented the weaknesses of his team’s blocking, be it the offensive line or missed assignments by the backs.
“There’s enough blame to go around, and it starts with me,” he said. “I take the loss, that’s my doing.
“Clinton’s defensive line is not bad. They’re big and physical. We showed glimpses of being there, but we’ve got to be there consistently.”
Until then, the margin for error remains small.
Head coach Robby Priest of East Bladen huddles with his team during a timeout in Friday’s 14-0 setback to visiting Clinton.
Shy Pone of host East Bladen looks for running room Friday night against Clinton. Pone had a 39-yard kickoff return in the second half, and also picked off a pass on defense in the first quarter.
Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @alanwooten19.