ELIZABETHTOWN — The Eagles scored almost at will in the first half of Thursday’s non-conference game against visiting St. Pauls, but had little to offer in the second half and held on for a 42-28 win.
East Bladen improved to 2-1, while the Bulldogs fell to 1-2.
St.Pauls took the opening possession and moved to the Eagles’ 28 before a fourth-down try failed. East Bladen took over and, on the first play of the game, James Higgins took a handoff and romped 34 yards to the Bulldogs’ 38. Four more runs moved the ball to the St. Pauls 24, where Eian Hines carried the ball in for a touchdown at the 7:03 mark.
East Bladen coach Robby Priest thought Hines had stepped out of bounds and was running a fourth-down play, but instead it was a two-point conversion — which Ethan Hines ran in successfully for an 8-0 lead.
St. Pauls went three plays and punted after losing 8 yards, giving the Eagles possession at their own 40. On the first play, quarterback Quinton Bedsole lofted a pass to Ethan Hines racing down the right sideline, hitting him in stride for a 60-yard touchdown. The PAT was no good, but East Bladen led 14-0 with 5:15 left in the first quarter.
After the Bulldogs went nowhere on four plays, giving the ball to East Bladen on the St.Pauls 36, the Eagles moved to the Bulldogs’ 24 before Bedsole’s fourth-down pass was intercepted at the St.Pauls 1.
On the Bulldogs’ first snap, Xavia McDowell broke through the line and sacked the quarterback for a safety and a 16-0 Eagles lead.
St. Pauls kicked off from its own 25 and the ball went out of bounds at the 26, where East Bladen took over and, on a fourth-and-4, Ethan Hines found daylight and ran 20 yards for a touchdown. The point after was no good, but East Bladen led 22-0 just 1:25 into the second quarter.
The Bulldogs finally got something going when they took over at midfield and ran six plays — including a 33-yard pass — that took them to the East Bladen 2. St.Pauls scored on the next play and added the extra point to pull within 22-7 with 8:18 left in the half.
But the Eagles needed only 12 seconds to answer — which was how long it took Ethan Hines to gather in the kickoff and zig-zag 82 yards for a touchdown. The extra point was good and East Bladen led 29-7.
The two teams traded empty possessions before East Bladen got a sack from B.J.Robinson to take possession at the Eagles’ 43. On the first play, Ethan Hines raced 57 yards for a touchdown and, when the kick sailed through the uprights, East Bladen had a 36-7 lead that all but closed out the half.
Priest said he had specific expectations for the second half.
“I want to see a foot-on-the-throat kind of things,” he said at halftime. “That’s something we didn’t have last year, and I’d like to see us put them away.”
The third quarter couldn’t have been further from Priest’s hopes.
After East Bladen punted on the first possession, St.Pauls took over at its own 43 and moved the 57 yards in six plays, punching the ball in on a 14-yard run. The PAT was good and the Bulldogs had pulled to within 36-14 4:59 into the second half.
The Eagles drove into St. Pauls territory, only to see the Bulldogs pick off a Bedsole pass and return it 70 yards for a touchdown. The kick was good and East Bladen’s lead was whittled to 36-21.
The bright spot of the second half was a 13-play, 48-yard drive tat saw East Bladen convert three fourth downs — the last one a 2-yard touchdown run by Xavier Wooten. The kick was missed, but the Eagles were up 42-21 with 8:13 to play in the game.
The two teams came up empty on their next possessions, but St.Pauls got something going when it started at its own 21 and marched the 79 yards on just five plays for a score. The kick was good and the Bulldogs were within 42-28 with just 54 seconds left.
East Bladen took a knee to kill the clock.
“We won the game and that’s the goal,” Priest said. “We’re young — eight new on defense and eight new on offense — so this is all part of the learning curve.”
Ethan Hines led east Bladen’s ground game with 104 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries. He also caught Bedsole’s lone completion for a 60-yard touchdown and added the 82-yard kickoff return for a score. Wooten rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries and Eian Hines ran fir 54 yards and a score on eight carries.
The Eagles will travel to Wilmington on Friday to face Class 4-A Laney High at 7:30 p.m.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.