DUBLIN — Coach Russell Dove’s chase of that elusive seventh win fell short once again after a season that saw West Bladen have to forfeit a win, injuries that played havoc with his roster and a season-ending, three-game losing streak to finish at 5-7.
“I’m relatively pleased with the season,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten to a point where we have a good base and understanding of where we are headed.
“We had one game get away from us and I’m disappointed we had to forfeit a game early, but that’s on me,” Dove added. “From the second game through the seventh, we got hit hard with injuries. We had up to 10 hurt at one stretch — but the kids stepped up to meet the challenge.”
West Bladen finished 3-4 in the Four County Conference.
The Knights had plenty of highlights along the way, but will be losing 15 seniors to graduation.
“Every one of the are good, quality kids,” Dove said. “Some of them have been with the program a long time.”
That list includes quarterback Stefan McDonald, running backs De’quam Lennon and Malique McDowell, kicker Ray Jones, linebackers Hunter Prevatte and Idris Najeeulllah, defensive back Donald McCullum, linemen Mason Skipper and David Gittens.
Some of the highlights during the season included a 50-21 homecoming win over Pender County, a stellar defensive effort in a 14-3 loss to East Bladen and putting up 28 points in the playoffs against a Kinston team that had given up only 120 points in 11 previous games.
“I thought we played real good football toward the end, especially against East Bladen,” Dove said.
West Bladen scored 264 points during the season and its ground game was led by McDowell, who went over the 1,000-yard mark in the playoff game against Kinston. He finished with 1,065 yards and six touchdowns on 129 carries during an injury riddled senior season. Junior James Moore contributed 745 yards and three touchdowns on 126 carries, while sophomore B.J. Drake added 634 yards and four touchdowns on 97 carries. Lennon added 557 yards and five touchdowns on just 67 carries while battling injuries.
As a team, the Knights rushed for 3,260 yards and 24 touchdowns on 538 carries.
Defensively, West Bladen allowed 357 yards over 12 games — including three games of 42 points or more (Clinton 50, Wallace-Rose Hill 42 and Kinston 52). The team’s leading tacklers were junior linebackers Hunter Pait with 61 solo and 104 total, and Traquan Smith with 50 solo and 82 total. Gittens led the Knights with four sacks and five players each had one interception.
After taking a couple of weeks to digest the season and let his players enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday, Dove said the Knights would be right back at it when they returned to school.
“We’ll be in the weight room starting Monday,” he said. “The conditioning program will get going right away.”
Although there will be big shoes to fill next season, primarily at the skill positions, Dove said he’s confident the talent and success will be there.
“Let’s not forget that it wasn’t but three years ago we were coming off an 0-11 season and hadn’t won much right before that,” he said. “Since then we’ve won 17 games, so I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
The next step in that success would be a seventh win.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.