ELIZABETHTOWN — Like two heavyweights giving everything they had, Clinton and East Bladen battled through a tight first have Saturday before the visiting Dark Horses scored 13 unanswered points in the second half and pulled out a 19-7 Four County Conference win.
The loss drops the Eagles to 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the conference, while Clinton moves to 6-0 and 2-0.
The Dark Horses held the East Bladen offense to just 50 total yards on the night, but the Eagles defense kept the home team close.
Clinton held East Bladen to a three-and-out and a 30-yard punt gave the Dark Horses possession at their own 48. Six runs moved the ball to the Eagles’ 16 and the seventh run put the ball in the end zone. The extra point was missed, but Clinton led 6-0 with 7:09 left in the first quarter.
Eian Hines gathered in the ensuing kickoff and returned it 26 yards to the East Bladen 33, but three plays netted just 4 yards and the Eagles punted.
Clinton, starting at its own 35, didn’t fare any better, going three-and-out and punting — which Ethan Hines took at the Eagles 23 and raced 36 yards to the Dark Horses’ 41. But the Eagles couldn’t take advantage, coming up a yard short on fourth-and-2 — all but ending the first period.
The two teams traded punts early in the second stanza before Clinton started a drive at its own 34 and, despite 20 yards in penalties, moved the ball to the East Bladen 10 — where a fumble was pounced on by the Eagles’ Kyle Tatum at the 14. Still, East Bladen went no place and punted.
The Dark Horses, starting at the East Bladen 45 with just 1:20 left in the half, had a pass intercepted by Eian Hines, who returned it 28 yards to the Clinton 30. The Dark Horses had a 15-yard penalty added on that moved the ball to the 15, where quarterback Quinton Bedsole lofted a perfect pass to Ethan Hines for a 15-yard touchdown. Pierce Melvin added the point after to give East Bladen a 7-6 edge with 38 seconds left in the half, which is where things remained at the buzzer.
“The defense played tough, and they’ll probably have to win it for us,” East Bladen coach Robby Priest said. “Their defense is just hard to move.”
That Clinton defense remained the immovable object over the next 24 minutes.
The Dark Horses too the opening kickoff and, starting from their own 41, needed just three plays to find pay dirt. A two-point run failed, but Clinton held a 12-7 lead just 1:25 into the third quarter.
East Bladen went three-and-out on its first possession of the half and the Dark Horses drove deep into Eagles territory before giving up the ball on downs at the East Bladen 8.
The Eagles straddled the third and fourth quarters with five plays, but only moved out to their own 19 before punting. Clinton, however, gave the ball right back when Xavier Wooten intercepted a pass and gave East Bladen the ball at midfield.
Three plays gave the Eagles just 2 yards and they punted to the Clinton 26. The Dark Horses moved 16 yards before fumbling— a ball that East Bladen’s Eian Hines fell on at the Clinton 45. Still, East Bladen couldn’t turn the turnover into points and, four plays later, a pressured Bedsole saw his pass intercepted at the 5 and returned 95 yards for a Clinton touchdown with 3:49 left to play. The PAT was good for a 19-7 Dark Horses lead.
The wheels came completely off for East Bladen, as the Dark Horses squibbed a kickoff and recovered the ball at the East Bladen 47, then ran out the clock.
“Our offense just didn’t help us out,” Priest said. “But the defense is getting better and did a heckuva job.
“Clinton is just good,” he added. “If they don’t represent the East (in the Class 2-A state championship), something’s wrong.”
Ethan Hines led the East Bladen ground game with 21 yards on 11 carries. Through the air, Bedsole was 2-of-6 for 16 yards and the touchdown pass to Ethan Hines.
The Eagles will travel to Burgaw on Friday for a Four County Conference game against Pender County at 7 p.m.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.