ELIZABETHTOWN — Kyle Tatum ran like his hair was on fire Friday, rushing for 217 yards and four touchdowns to lead East Bladen to a happy homecoming win over visiting Pender County.
The win improved the Eagles to 6-1 overall and 2-1 in the Four County Conference, while the Patriots fell to 1-6, 0-3.
“We had to get some bad taste pout of our mouth, and it’s not quite out yet,” said East Bladen coach Robby Priest, in reference to last Saturday’s 49-19 loss to rival Clinton.
The Eagles were without three-fourths of its starting backfield because of injuries to running backs Ethan Hines, Eian Hines and Nikita Owens. But the “next men up” for East Bladen more than picked up the slack.
The Eagles didn’t waste time finding the end zone. Taking the opening kickoff to its own 21, East Bladen ran just four plays — a 23-yard run by Tatum, a 33-yard run by Xavia McDowell, a 7-yard run by Ty McMillian and a 4-yard touchdown run by Tatum just 1:24 into the game. A penalty on Pender County on the extra point sparked Priest to go for two, and Tatum ran the conversion in for an 8-0 lead.
After stopping the Patriots with a three and out, East Bladen took over after a punt at its own 38 — and needed just four plays to cover the 62 yards. McMillian ran for 11, McDowell gained 15, Tatum rushed for 20 and then ran it in from 16 yards out. The PAT was no good, but the Eagles led 14-0 with 7:01 left in the first quarter.
Pender County took over at its own 35 and began moving the ball, converting a pair of fourth downs and reaching the East Bladen 14. But the Patriots’ luck ran out on their third fourth-down try when Chris Cromartie tackled the ball carrier for a 7-yard loss and turned the ball over to the Eagles at the East Bladen 21 at the start of the second quarter.
The Eagles covered the 79 yards in eight plays, highlighted by a 22-yard pass from quarterback Alex Coates to Zach Johnson and a 16-yard run for the touchdown by McDowell with 7:36 left in the half. Jesus Ramos added the point after to give East Bladen a 21-0 lead.
Pender County fell on the ensuing squib kick at its own 41 and quickly picked up a first down at the East Bladen 46. But a penalty, a run that went nowhere, an incomplete pass and a pass blocked by McDowell led to a Patriots punt to the Eagles’ 24.
East Bladen again went the distance, finding pay dirt in nine plays — featuring a 29-yard pass from Coates to Johnson and a 1-yard touchdown run by Tatum. Ramos’ kick was good and East Bladen was up 28-0 with just 32 seconds left in the half, which is where things stayed at intermission.
“I’m much happier (with the defense) tonight than I was last Saturday,” said Mark Little, East Bladen’s defensive coordinator. “We’re flying around a lot better.”
Very little changed in the second half.
East Bladen forced a three and out from the Patriots and, after a punt, took over on its own 37. Using just four plays to cover the 63 yards — thanks to a 25-yard pass from Coates to Sincere Smith to start the drive and a 38-yard pass from Coates to Johnson to finish the drive — the Eagles took a 35-0 lead with 9:12 left in the third quarter after Ramos’ extra point.
The Eagles’ defense held Pender County to no yards on three plays and forced another punt, giving East Bladen the ball at it’s own 22. A nine-play, 78-yard march highlighted by a 39-yard run by Tatum was completed with a 7-yard touchdown run by Bernard Robinson with 2:33 left in the quarter. Ramos booted the extra point to put East Bladen up 42-0 and start the clock running for the rest of the game.
Another three and out, followed by a Patriots punt, gave East Bladen the ball at its own 18 to start the fourth quarter — but the Eagles needed just three plays to score. Robinson rushed for 3 yards, McDowell busted up the middle for 16 and Tatum finished things off with a 63-yard touchdown run. Ramos added the point after for a 49-0 lead with 9:44 left to play.
Priest went to his second-team defense to finish the game and, though it bent, it didn’t break. Pender County moved from its own 33 to the East Bladen 5 in nine plays, but Arron LaForte squashed any Patriot thoughts of averting the shutout when he recovered a Pender County fumble at the East Bladen 10.
Carlos Murphy got the final carry of the night for the Eagles, picking up 3 yards and running out the clock.
“I liked the intensity and focus we had tonight,” Priest said. “With the injuries we had, we had to move some folks around and boy did they step up. Kyle ran hard, Xavia ran hard, Ty ran hard … everybody ran hard.
“And we were able to get everyone some playing time on homecoming night,” he added.
In addition to Tatum’s 217 yards and four touchdowns on 15 carries, McDowell added 110 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. McMillian contributed 51 yards on nine carries.
Coates, getting his first start and complete game at quarterback, was 4-for-4 through the air for 114 yards and a touchdown. Johnson caught three passes for 89 yards and Smith had one catch for 25 yards.
Overall, East Bladen out gained Pender County by a 520-125 margin.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.