By Sonny Jones
East Bladen did its part with a dominating 58-14 win against West Bladen on Friday night. Was it enough to earn one of two state playoff wildcard bids?
East Bladen has made the playoffs every year since at least 2004, according to records on MaxPreps.com, including a state championship loss to Thomasville in 2008. The streak predates 2004, but I’m not sure when it started.
The Eagles will learn some time Saturday whether a 5-2 record and a third-place finish in the Three Rivers Conference is enough to keep its streak of consecutive playoff appearances intact.
A playoff berth in this unusual spring football season is, at best, a long shot for East Bladen. It’s unlikely, to be honest. A third-place finish isn’t going to be enough in this COVID-reduced 16-team East Regional field. In the standard 32-team East field, the Eagles would be a shoo-in, but this hasn’t been a standard season.
St. Pauls (5-0), by virtue of its 42-25 win against Red Springs on Friday, wins the conference championship and an automatic bid. Red Springs will receive the league’s second automatic berth. The Red Devils finished 4-1, which included a 27-14 win against the Eagles.
South Granville (5-2) finished second in the Northern Carolina 2-A/1-A Conference and would need a wildcard bid. The league only has one automatic bid. Same scenario for Bartlett Yancey, which lost to Reidsville 42-0 on Thursday for the Mid-State 2-A Conference championship.
Southwest Onslow (4-1) finished second in the Coastal 8 2-A/1-A Conference after having its season-ending game canceled because Richlands had COVID-related issues.
So, barring COVID-related issues (let’s hope not), the high school football season came to close Friday night at the Knights’ Castle. But in this seven-week spring season, it’s a credit to players, coaches and fans that a season was played.
Here’s looking ahead to August 1 when, hopefully, teams will begin practice for the 2021 fall season.
WHEN A RIVALRY IS NOT A RIVALRY
East Bladen and West Bladen are cross-county rivals. But is it a rivalry when one team dominates the other?
West Bladen, in its inaugural season, beat the then-Cougars in 2001. East Bladen has won every year since, making it 19 straight with Friday’s triumph. None of the players in Friday’s game were born the last time West Bladen beat East Bladen on the football field.
The Knights’ lone win came when students weren’t even attending West Bladen. School construction had not been completed so students went class at the former Bladenboro High School and Tar Heel High School (both now middle schools), then came together on the athletic field.
West Bladen went 8-2 in its first season, but finished third in the conference behind Clinton and South Robeson and didn’t make the playoffs.
There were a couple of close games between the Eagles and Knights last decade — 7-0 in 2016 and 14-3 in 2015 — but most contests were one-sided.
A rivalry needs to feature close games, an occasional upset, and a series in which a case can be made for either team winning.
That certainly hasn’t been the case with the Eagles/Cougars and Knights.
We’ll see what the future holds between the Bladen County high school football teams.