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Football: East Bladen 35, Clinton 16

CLINTON – Senior Xavier Wooten and junior James Higgins combined to rush for 264 yards and 5 touchdowns as East Bladen opened the season with a 35-16 non-conference football victory over former Four County Conference rival Clinton.

Wooten carried 24 times for 155 yards and 3 touchdowns, and Higgins finished with 109 yards and 2 touchdowns on 10 attempts. The Eagles ‘ground-and-pound’ running game outrushed Clinton 326-185 and held a 350-222 edge in total yards.

“As long as all 3 of them (Wooten, Higgins and fullback Xavia McDowell) can get 18-20 carries each, we’re happy,” said East Bladen Coach Robby Priest. “That big offensive line led by those seniors had a lot to do with that.” McDowell totaled 52 yards on 9 rushes.

The Eagles dominated the first 20 minutes of the game. An errant Clinton pitch on their first play was recovered by East senior B. J. Robinson at the Eagle 47 yardline.

A 53-yard East Bladen drive that took 13 plays and consumed 6 minutes off of the clock culminated in a 4-yard touchdown run for Higgins. Junior Pierce Melvin nailed the first of his 5 consecutive extra points for a 7-0 Eagle lead with 5:20 left in the first quarter.

On their next possession the Eagles covered 66 yards in 11 plays with Wooten bursting into the end zone standing up from a yard out. Melvin converted the point for a 14-0 lead with 8:27 remaining in the half. Wooten turned the corner on a 29-yard run, and McDowell powered 14 yards for the two biggest plays of the drive.

After an exchange of punts, the Clinton offense woke up with a 65-yard drive in 8 plays. Quarterback Kris Williams scrambled 13 yards, and 13 more yards were tacked on for a late hit that put the Dark Horses at the Eagle 14.

Senior A. J. Williamson rambled 12 yards before Williams pulled loose from a pair of tacklers on a 2-yard touchdown run. Chandler Perry’s point-after kick trimmed the margin to 14-7 with 1:03 on the clock.

Two plays later Clinton’s Hampton Block picked off an Eagle pass to put the Horses on the Eagle 33 yardline only 7 seconds before halftime. Williams scrambled again for 15 yards, and a horse collar tackle penalty on the play moved the ball to the Eagle 9 yardline. Perry capitalized on the untamed down for penalty to boot a 26-yard field goal and slice the lead to 14-10 at intermission.

“We got a little ahead of ourselves and tried to do too much there,” said Coach Priest about the interception. “That one’s on me.”

The Eagle offense opened the second half with a 54-yard, 6-play march that reached the Clinton 39 yardline. A 24-yard swing pass from quarterback Quinton Bedsole to senior Sincere Smith started the drive. McDowell banged straight ahead for 12 yards, and Wooten popped loose for 15 more.

Another Bedsole pass was tipped by players from both teams and picked off by Clinton’s Trey Warren to end the threat.

The Eagles fumbled a punt to give the Dark Horses possession at the Eagle 30 yardline. After a personal foul penalty backed Clinton up, Williams darted 22 yards. On fourth and three, Perry’s 41-yard field goal attempt was wide right.

“The defense came up big there and really played well overall,” said Coach Priest.

A pair of Wooten runs netted 11 yards, before Higgins broke through the middle and raced 66 yards for an Eagle touchdown. Melvin added the point, and East led 21-10 with 2:34 left in the third period.

After a couple of penalties, a squib kick gave the Dark Horses the ball at the East 47 yardline. Williamson carried tacklers for the last 10 yards of a 28-yard run that ended the period with Clinton on the Eagle one. Williams leaped over the line on the first play of the final quarter to cut the lead to 21-16. A 2-point conversion run was stopped short.

Junior Shy Pone took the ensuing kick-off and bolted 76 yards straight up the middle to put the Eagles on the Clinton 24 yardline. McDowell plowed through the middle for 12 yards, before Wooten rammed into the end zone from 3 yards out for the touchdown. Melvin booted the extra point to pad the lead to 28-16 with 10:24 left to play.

Clinton picked up a couple of first downs before Smith laid out to knock down a fourth down pass and give the Eagles possession at the East Bladen 42 yardline.

Wooten ripped off runs of 11, 4, 8 and 26 yards on the 58-yard scoring drive that followed. Wooten’s 26-yard sprint around right end resulted in the final touchdown with 2:24 remaining. Melvin connected on his fifth extra point for the final 35-16 score.

“Overall I was pleased with the win, but we have room for growth,” concluded Coach Priest.

Williams rushed 11 times for a net 55 yards and 2 touchdowns and completed 3 of 6 passes for 37 yards to lead the Clinton offense. Williamson carried 5 times for 55 yards.

The Eagles host North Brunswick Friday night in their home opener.

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