A long-time Bladen County varsity coach once said “it’s only a rivalry if either team has a good chance to win.”
Friday marks the culmination of Rivalry Week in Bladen County with the annual “Battle for the Bell” football game between East Bladen and West Bladen. But if that coach is correct, this one has been far too one-sided to be labeled a true rivalry.
The Eagles come into the game having won the last 14 meetings with the Knights — some of them by wide margins. West Bladen won just the first meeting of the series following consolidation.
“A lot of these kids have been playing with and against each other since they were 8 years old,” said Knights first-year coach Todd Pait said. “And this is the kind of game that gets the kids to really show up.”
This game features two teams headed in different directions.
East Bladen comes in at 5-4 overall and 3-2 in the conference. The Eagles have scored 278 points and allowed 195. West Bladen is on a seven-game losing streak and stands at 2-7 overall, 0-5 in the conference. The Knights have scored 142 points and allowed 264 points.
Unlike last season, East Bladen has stayed healthy throughout the schedule so far. But West Bladen has been inundated with injuries throughout the roster, which has created challenging positioning with numerous younger players.
“We’ve been learning some hard life lessons this season,”Pait said.
When the two teams line up Friday, each coach will have plenty o be concerned with from the other team.
The Eagles bring a quick-strike offense with a ground game led by senior Ethan Hines, who has gained 878 yards and run for 11 touchdowns on 104 carries. Xavier Wooten has been installed at fullback recently and has rushed for 292 yards and three touchdowns on 62 carries. Eian Hines has rushed for 305 yards and four touchdowns on 38 carries, and James Higgins has gained 301 yards and scored a touchdown on 58 carries.
Leading the Eagles’ offense is quarterback Quinton Bedsole, who is 14-of-35 through the air for 289 yards and eight touchdowns. His favorite receivers are the Hines twins — Ethan has nine receptions for 209 yards and six touchdowns, Eian has four catches for 79 yards and two TDs.
Defensively, East Bladen is led by lineman Caleb Strait with 49 tackles, 18 solo; Atlas Goss with 48 tackles, 15 solo; Ethan Hines with 48 tackles, 18 solo; Wooten with 47 tackles, 15 solo; and Lahkeyed Lesane with 45 tackles, 10 solo.
East Bladen coach Robby Priest was not available for this story.
The Knights got a bit of good news this week when they were told senior quarterback Weston Pidgeon, out the last several weeks with an injury, would be available Friday and Pait said he would “ease him in” for playing time with Scott Bowen. Between the two quarterbacks this season, they have combined to go 30-of-83 through the air for 351 yards and five touchdowns.
Although West Bladen has opened its offense, the Knights still like their running game with James Moore, who has rushed for 312 yards and four touchdowns on 59 carries; and B.J.Drake, who has rushed for 293 yards and a touchdown on 55 carries.
In the passing game, tight end Trent West, wide receivers Keyshawn Lewis and T.J. Kemp, along with Drake each have a touchdown catch.
On defense, West Bladen is led by linebacker Hunter Pait with 34 tackles, 29 solo; West and Zion Barrett each have two sacks.
Friday is Senior Night for the Knights and kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.