ELIZABETHTOWN – Five East Bladen turnovers and an early injury to a key Eagle proved to be the difference Friday night as Southwest Onslow advanced to the Eastern Class 2A Finals with a 30-13 victory.
Senior Xavier Wooten who had rushed for 1,833 yards and 29 touchdowns this season was lost to a knee injury on his third carry of the game. Without Wooten the Eagle ground attack only generated 75 yards rushing on 30 attempts.
Photos by Kenarmphoto.com
“Xavier going out really hurt us,” said Eagle Coach Robby Priest. “Not just the offense lost, but he’s a middle linebacker and a leader. I really hope he is not hurt too bad.”
Both defenses forced 3-and-outs to start the game, but the Eagles fumbled a punt and Southwest’s Matthew Barker recovered at the East Bladen 42 yardline. A 30-yard swing pass from quarterback Dharyus Thomas to Jakoby Johnson set up a 27-yard field goal by Ethan Barbee that gave the Stallions the early 3-0 lead at the 5:52 mark.
Wooten rammed through the line for ten yards on the next Eagle possession but was injured one play later. A defensive holding penalty helped East Bladen reach the Stallion 43 yardline, before the Stallions’ D’angelo McKinnie recovered an Eagle fumble at the East Bladen 46 yardline.
Speedster Taighee Edwards circled left end on the next play and raced 46 yards for a Stallion touchdown. Barbee tacked on the conversion to push the lead to 10-0 with 1:31 left in the opening period.
The Eagles answered with a 63-yard drive in 4 plays. Senior Sincere Smith’s leaping catch of a 32-yard pass from senior Quinton Bedsole produced a 32-yard gain. A pass interference penalty picked up 15 yards, before junior James Higgins ended the first quarter with a 9-yard run.
On the first play of the second quarter, Higgins banged through the line for 7 yards and a touchdown. Junior Pierce Melvin kicked the extra point to pull the Eagles to within 10-7.
After a succession of 3-and-outs, a short Eagle punt gave Southwest the ball at the East Bladen 38 yardline. Runs of 10 and 8 yards by Johnson highlighted a 7-play touchdown drive that resulted in Johnson’s one-yard touchdown run. Barbee’s conversion widened the lead to 17-7 with 1:10 remaining in the half.
Higgins busted through the middle for a 21-yard gain, but Edwards intercepted an Eagle pass at the Stallion 10 yardline to end the half.
The Stallions opened the second half with a 58-yard drive in 11 plays. The Eagles jumped offside on a fourth-down-and-one play to give Southwest a first down at the East 30. A 15-yard pass from Thomas to Zachary Dugan produced the touchdown and a 23-7 SW lead with 5:02 left in the period.
A 28-yard return of an Eagle fumble by Edwards put the Stallions at the East Bladen 20 yardline. However a pair of Southwest penalties moved the ball back to the 40 and ended the threat.
A 31-yard pass from Bedsole to Smith moved the Eagles out to midfield, but the drive was stopped on downs.
Southwest’s Josh Kea intercepted an Eagle pass at the Stallion 37 to stop the next Eagle threat.
Bedsole hurled a 44-yard pass to junior Shy Pone to start the next East Bladen drive, but the Eagles were stopped on downs at the Southwest 33 yardline.
In the final minutes Bedsole was sacked on a fourth down play to give Southwest the ball at the East Bladen 13 yardline. On the next play Johnson motored around the right side for the touchdown. Barbee’s conversion made it 30-7 with 1:31 left in the game.
East Bladen junior Eric Chancy fielded the ensuing kick-off and outran the Stallion defenders on a 70-yard kick-off return for a touchdown. The conversion run was stopped short to keep the final margin at 30-13.
“They whipped our tails up front,” said Coach Priest. “A lot of things tonight that were out of character for us. You can’t have penalties and turnovers in the third round of the play-offs.”
Edwards rushed for 90 yards on 12 carries, and Johnson finished with 60 yards on 17 attempts as Southwest totaled 173 yards passing and 47 yards passing. Southwest outgained the Eagles by only a 220 yards to 192 margin, but the 5 turnovers were crucial.
Higgins rushed for 45 yards on 8 attempts before going out with an injury midway the third quarter. Bedsole completed 4 of 15 passes for 117 yards. Smith had 3 catches for 73 yards, and Pone had the one 44-yard reception.
“This group has come a long way,” said Coach Priest. “We are going to miss these seniors and their leadership. We hope that some of these younger guys are going to step up and be leaders for us.”
The Eagles finished the season with a 12-2 record and a share of the Three Rivers Conference championship. Southwest Onslow, now 11-3, will host Wallace-Rose Hill next Friday.