CLINTON — In a rematch of a 21-20 Four County Conference regular-season game that Clinton won in the final minute, East Bladen used an aerial attack in the first half and the Eagles’ defense made 14 points stand up en route to a 14-7 win in the first round of the Class 2-A East playoffs.
East Bladen improves to 7-5, while the Dark Horses’ season concludes at 7-4.
Clinton too the opening kickoff and marched from its own 42 to the Eagles’ 24 before Jabriel Graham and Alex Stephens combined on a sack on fourth down.
East Bladen took over on its own 29 and two Farrell Murchison runs plus a Clinton penalty moved the ball to the 48. With the eagles facing a third and 11 at its own 47, quarterback Ty McMillian dropped back and lofted a pass to Jaquan Jones, who beat the defense on a post pattern and hauled in the pass for a 41-yard gain to the Clinton 12.
Murchison carried the ball to the 7, then to the 1 before Jaylan Herring finished off the 71-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 4:10 left in the first quarter. Hastin McGill booted the extra point for a 7-0 Eagles lead.
The Dark Horses started their next possession at their own 41, but could move no further than the East Bladen 39 before punting the ball into the end zone.
The Eagles took over at their 20 and moved the ball to the 40, highlighted by a 15-yard pass from McMillian to Jones, to run out the first quarter. East Bladen got an 8-yard run from Murchison and, after a penalty took 5 yards away, moved 22 yards on another pass from McMillian to Jones.
Three more runs took the Eagles to the Clinton 9 for a first and goal, but East Bladen began going backwards from there. Two runs, a penalty and a sack moved the Eagles back to the Clinton 33, where they were faced with a fourth and goal. But East Bladen coach Robby Priest didn’t hesitate, keeping the offense on the field and rolling the dice.
McMillian took the snap and scrambled left, looking downfield the entire time. Just before reaching the sideline, he launched a Hail Mary to the end zone that was caught by Jones for a touchdown with 5:38 left in the half. McGill’s point after gave East Bladen a 14-0 lead.
Clinton didn’t roll over.
Starting at their own 41, the Dark Horses put together a drive that took the ball to the East Bladen 8, where Clinton was faced with a fourth a 5. A pass that zipped across the middle and into the end zone, however, was batted away by Ian Hines at the last moment to thwart the threat.
The Eagles then ran the clock out at took the 14-0 lead to halftime. Priest said his message during intermission was straight to the point.
“No stupid penalties, tighten up the defense and play smart,” he said. “And scoring some points would help.”
It didn’t go exactly like Priest wanted over the next 24 minutes, but it turned out to be good enough.
The Eagles couldn’t mount a threat to start the second half and Clinton took over at its own 32. Two runs gained 3 yards and, on third down the Dark Horses passed downfield and were intercepted by Hines, who took the ball all the way to the Clinton 10.
Herring took the first handoff and raced to the 1, where he lost the ball just before hitting the ground. The Dark Horses managed to fall on the ball in the end zone for the touchback.
Clinton quickly moved to to its own 48 before Stephens recorded a sack after a bad snap for an 11-yard loss and, two plays later, Jones picked off a Clinton pass and ran 64 yards to the Clinton 8. But a blocking penalty against East Bladen brought the ball back to the Eagles 44.
Two Herring rushes gained 14 yards before Murchison lost 3 yards and then East Bladen lost a fumble and the Dark Horses returned it to the East Bladen 39.
Four runs took the ball to the East Bladen 26 as the third quarter ended, but on the first play of the fourth quarter, Clinton got a 26-yard touchdown pass. The PAT cut the Eagles’ lead in half at 14-7.
The Dark Horses pinned East Bladen deep in its own territory with a long kickoff that was only returned to the 11. From there, the Eagles chewed up small chunks of yardage on the ground until they reached their own 40, where the march fizzled. A 26-yard punt was returned to the East Bladen 45.
Clinton wasted little time in moving the ball to the Eagles’ 8 before the East Bladen defense stiffened and, on fourth and 8 from the 9, a Dark Horses’ pass was dropped to end the threat with less than 3 minutes left to play.
The Eagles got 5 yards from Murchison, and then a huge run of 23 yards by Murchison to move the ball out to the East Bladen 37. Two runs gained just a yard, but McMillian scrambled for 10 yards and a first down at the Eagles’ 48. Two runs poked the ball 4 yards into Clinton territory before Murchison went on a 40-yard twisting, turning, changing direction run to the Dark Horses 6 — where, with less than a minute to play, East Bladen took a pair of knees to seal the win.
“The whole defense played outstanding,” Priest said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s pretty or ugly, it’s survive and move on.
“We had a game plan and the kids stuck to it,” he added. “We knew they had a good front seven or eight, and we knew we’d have to throw it.”
Murchison led East Bladen on the ground with 172 yards rushing on 22 carries — 121 of those yards came in the second half. Herring added 44 yards and a score on 18 carries, as the Eagles rushed for 236 yards.
Through the air, McMillian was 4-for-5 for 123 yards and a touchdown, all in the first half and all to Jones.