ELIZABETHTOWN — Prior to Friday’s season opener with East Bladen, visiting coach Russell Dove said he knew of only one way for his South Columbus Stallions to contain the Eagles’ speed.
“We’ve got to keep it on the sidelines,” he said. “We can’t have three and outs tonight.”
Dove got his wish. South Columbus had just one three and out en route to a stunning 29-22 win over East Bladen at Lenon Fisher Stadium.
The Stallions opened the game with a 10-play, 42-yard drive that fizzled at the East Bladen 15. The Eagles drove the other way, using nine plays and chewing up 46 yards — highlighted by 9-yard runs from James Higgins, Ethan Hines and B.J. Robinson — before a fumble gave the ball back to South Columbus at its own 39.
The Stallions took advantage, marching 61 yards on 10 plays and helped by a 15-yard East Bladen penalty. The final play was a 10-yard touchdown run 2:01 into the second quarter. The point after was good and gave the Stallions a 7-0 edge.
East Bladen started its possession at its own 28 and got a 15-yard run from Ethan Hines that helped move the ball out to midfield before Eian Hines tried to salvage a broken fourth-down play and ended up getting dropped for an 11-yard loss.
The Stallions, starting from the East Bladen 39, needed two plays to punch the ball in at the 6:02 mark. An Eagles penalty on the extra point moved the ball to the 1 and South Columbus successfully added the two-point conversion for a 15-0 lead.
But a quiet East Bladen sidelines was quickly brought to life moments later when Ethan Hines picked up the kickoff at the Eagles’ 23, zig-zagged through the first wall of defenders and then outraced the rest of the Stallions for a 72-yard touchdown. The extra point hit the left upright and East Bladen trailed 15-6 with 5:46 left in the half.
South Columbus began at its own 43 but could only move 19 yards on six plays and turned the ball over to the Eagles.
East Bladen benefited from a Stallions penalty and got an 11-yard run from Ethan Hines to move the ball out to the South Columbus 42. Moments later, the Eagles converted a fourth down to keep the drive alive, but on the next fourth down and 40 yards to go for a score with just seconds left in the half, a pass from Quinton Bedsole to Ethan Hines covered only 20 yards.
East Bladen got the ball to start the second half, and the kickoff went to Ethan Hines — who raced down the right sideline 61 yards to the Stallions’ 15. He added a 4-yard run and Higgins followed with an 11-yard touchdown run. Ethan Hines then added the two-point conversion to pull the Eagles to within 15-14 just 56 seconds into the third quarter.
South Columbus then out-East Bladened the Eagles, manufacturing a clock-killing, 16-play drive that covered 77 yards before it fizzled at the Eagles’ 8.
East Bladen took over and could only move the ball out to its own 43 before a 30-yard punt gave the ball back to the Stallions’ at their own 27 just as the fourth quarter started.
A seven-play, 73-yard march — featuring a 43-yard run — found the end zone for South Columbus. The PAT was good and the visitors took a 22-14 lead with 9:05 left in the game.
East Bladen answered with a seven-play, 80-yard drive that took 3:05 and found pay dirt when Eian Hines scampered through the Stallions’ defense for a 36-yard touchdown run. Despite a penalty by the Eagles moving the extra point back to the 7, Bedsole still found Ethan Hines in the end zone with a pass for the two-point conversion and pulled East Bladen into a 22-22 knot with 6 minutes left to play.
The one thing South Columbus had avoided all night was a three and out, but that’s exactly what happened at that moment. Three plays gained just a single yard and a 21-yard punt gave East Bladen the ball at its own 34 with 3:55 to play.
On the very first play, Ethan Hines busted up the middle, cut to the left sideline and ran 66 yards for a touchdown. But it was all called back on a holding penalty and, three plays later, a fumble was recovered by South Columbus at the East Bladen 29.
The Stallions needed just five plays to get the go-ahead score and the extra point gave the visitors a 29-22 lead with 1:02 on the clock.
Five plays moved the Eagles from their own 35 to the South Columbus 41, but a fourth down attempt fell short to end any hope.
“We just didn’t make any plays (on defense),” East Bladen coach Robby Priest said. “We still need to find some leaders on this team.”
Huggins led East Bladen’s ground game with 66 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, while Eian Hines rushed for 62 yards on nine carries and Ethan Hines had 52 yards on nine carries. Through the air, Bedsole was 2-of-5 for 21 yards.
East Bladen travels to Whiteville on Friday.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.