ELIZABETHTOWN — Aside from at a distance, the East Bladen varsity football team hasn’t seen its home field since its 17-8 loss to Whiteville on Aug. 30.
“It’s been a long time,” Eagles coach Robby Priest said. “So it’ll be good to play a game at home again.”
East Bladen, 0-3, will host East Columbus, 2-1, on Friday in the final non-conference game before the Four County Conference season opens next week.
Priest said he’s expecting a big challenge from the Gators — starting with the offense.
East Columbus operates out of the spread formation, but will rely on the run a majority of the time. That ground game is led by running backs Nick McLure and Greg Melvin, each of whom were preseason all-state selections. McLure is the Gators’ bruising back, while Melvin brings the speed.
Another running back, Jalen Dumas, along with Melvin at times, will also split off as a wide receiver.
“They are a very athletic team, so our defense will have its hands full,” Priest said.
On both sides of the ball, the Gators are anchored by solid linemen like Jake Austin, Tavon Pierce and Dale Johnson.
The East Columbus defense regularly lines up in a 3-5 or 3-4, but Priest is expecting to see plenty of variations.
Although this is the first time in many seasons that the Eagles have opened 0-3, Priest said there’s no panic along the East Bladen sideline or within the ranks.
“Nah, nobody’s down,” he said. “All the players are still upbeat, all the coaches are upbeat … I hope the fans stay upbeat.
“We play some good competition, which is what I like about our schedule,” he added. “There’s no cupcakes, and it should work to our advantage once the conference schedule starts. The bigger picture is that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. We plan to finish big.”
Priest said the week’s practices have been good, with a focus on the basics and protecting the ball.
“That’s been our Achilles heel so far,” he said. “We’ve let go three or four every game, and it’s hard to win when you don’t hang on to the ball.”
Priest’s keys to winning on Friday include eliminating penalties and playing good, solid East Bladen football.
“We can’t keep shooting ourselves in the foot if we want to be successful,” he said.
The Eagles will be without running back and linebacker Isaiah Young, who is nursing a knee injury.