ELIZABETHTOWN — East Bladen took an early punch from the visiting Knights of West Bladen on Friday, then settled in to dominate the final three quarters for a 28-7 Four County Conference win.
The victory is the the Eagles’ 12th straight in the annual Battle for the Bell and completes the regular season at 6-5 overall, 5-2 in the conference for East Bladen. The Knights fall to 5-6, 3-4. Each team now awaits its opponent in the state’s Class 2-A playoffs.
West Bladen took the opening possession and drove to the Eagles’ 16 before the drive fizzled. East Bladen, though, gave the ball back on its third play when Zac Munson recovered a fumble at the Eagles’ 12.
The Knights cashed in quickly. On its third play, West Bladen scored on a 13-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Colby Lewis to Tavion Graham, who outjumped a defender in the corner of the end zone. Colby McLean booted the extra point to give the Knights a 7-0 lead with 6:53 left in the first quarter.
East Bladen answered with one of its patented lengthy drives — moving 62 yards with 13 plays and scoring on the first play of the second quarter on a 3-yard run by Jaylan Herring. Hastin McGill kicked the PAT to knot the game at 7-7.
West Bladen went three and out, punting the ball to the East Bladen 33 where the Eagles began another methodical drive. Eight plays and two penalties against the Knights moved the ball to the West Bladen 16, but on the ninth play, the Eagles coughed up the ball again and it was recovered by West Bladen’s Frankie Moultrie at the East Bladen 20.
The Knights, however, couldn’t take advantage. A penalty, two plays that went backwards and a sack by East Bladen’s Jabriel Graham pushed the Knights back to their own 8. But Trevor Lesane’s 42-yard punt dug West Bladen out of a hole, and set the Eagles up at midfield.
It took East Bladen just seven plays to cover those 50 yards — highlighted by a 15-yard run by Farrell Murchison and an 8-yard pass reception by Alex Stephens that wobbled through the air. The drive was capped off by a 14-yard touchdown run by Murchison with just 36.9 seconds left in the half, and McGill’s extra point put the Eagles up, 14-7.
West Bladen coach Russell Dove, whose Knights ran just 16 plays in the first half, spent halftime making some adjustments on both sides of the ball.
“We made quite a few changes, mostly on the offensive side,” Dove said. “We’ll see what happens.”
East Bladen coach Robby Priest’s halftime talk was straight to the point.
“I just told them to score,” he said.
Priest got his wish right off the bat, as the Eagles took the second-half kickoff and marched 71 yards in six plays. The drive featured a 28-yard run by Murchison and a 12-yard run by Isaiah Young. Herring carried the ball 19 yards to pay dirt moments later, but the play was called back on a penalty.
Murchison then rushed for 31 yards and Herring finished things off with a 3-yard touchdown run 3:33 into the third quarter. McGill booted the point after and opened a 21-7 lead.
The Knights, starting from their own 38, began a drive that saw West Bladen get 17 yards from Malique McDowell, 11 from Lewis and another 15 from Lewis to set the Knights up at the East Bladen 9. But the Knights could get no closer than the Eagles’ 8 and gave the ball back.
East Bladen couldn’t move past its own 15 and a short punt gave the ball to the Knights at the Eagles’ 39 as the third quarter was about to end. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Lewis hit Malcolm Vaught with a quick pass and Vaught carried it 37 yards for a touchdown — only to have it called back on a penalty.
It got worse.
On the next play, East Bladen’s Jaquan Jones intercepted a pass to end the threat.
East Bladen moved the ball 60 yards in just four plays — getting a 21-yard pass from Ty McMillian to Jones, a 10-yard run from Murchison and a 25-yard touchdown run from Murchison with 10:19 left in the game. Haskin’s PAT put East Bladen up, 28-7.
The Eagles kicked off from their own 20 after two successive penalties, and West Bladen took over at the Eagles’ 47. Four runs moved the Knights to the East Bladen 11, but the next four plays saw West Bladen move backwards and the threat ended at the East Bladen 17.
The Eagles got big chunks of yards from Murchison and Herring, as they put together a 12-play drive that moved the ball to the West Bladen 7 before East Bladen took a pair of knees to run out the clock.
“I’m proud of the way we played,” Priest said. “They bought in about five or six weeks ago and it’s paying off.
“Isaiah Young gets out hardhat of the week … he’s the defense’s quarterback and really played well,” Priest added.
Dove was just as complimentary of his Knights.
“The score doesn’t indicate the battle that took place on the field,” Dove said. “That’s the hardest we’ve fought, the hardest we’ve hit this season. We just played hard.
“We were good from the 20 to 20, but games are won inside the 20,” he added.
The Eagles were led by Murchison’s 181 yards on 20 carries, while Herring added 95 yards on 19 carries. Through the air, McMillian was 5-of-7 for 71 yards; Stephens caught two balls for 21 yards, while Murchison caught one for 8 yards, Herring caught one for 21 yards and Jones had a catch for 21 yards.
The Knights got 56 yards on seven carries from McDowell and Lewis added 37 yards on seven carries. Through the air, Lewis was 3-of-7 for just a yard; Graham had a catch for 13 yards, Xavier McKoy had a catch for minus-3 yards and McDowell had a catch for minus-9 yards.