DUBLIN — Just one play.
One play on Friday broke the hearts of West Bladen coaches, players and fans. The same play filled the hearts of East Bladen coaches, players and fans with jubiliation.
The Eagles clicked on a 51-yard scoring pass from quarterback Quinton Bedsole to Eian Hines late in the second quarter and won their 15th straight “Battle for the Bell” by a 7-0 verdict. The win improved East Bladen to 6-4 overall and 4-2 in the Four County Conference; the Knights lost their eighth straight game and fell to 2-8 overall, 0-6 in the conference.
The evening was punctuated by West Bladen’s joint homecoming and Senior Night.
“They know they were in in a ball game tonight,” West Bladen coach Todd Pait said. “This is the kind of game I came back (to North Carolina ) for — they gave their best shot and we gave ours.”
Things didn’t start for the Knights like they hoped. West Bladen opened the game at its own 45 and … had to use a timeout. Then, on the first play, quarterback Wesley Pidgeon dropped back and lofted a pass downfield that was intercepted by East Bladen’s Kyle Tatum.
The Eagles got a couple of good runs — 11 yards by Ethan Hines and 10 yards by Xavier Wooten — but a 26-yard drive fizzled at the Knights’ 41.
West Bladen also got a couple of good runs — 10 yards by B.J. Drake and 10 yards by Zion Barrett — but the Knights’ 39-yard march bogged down at the Eagles’ 20.
East Bladen put together a methodical, 59-yard drive using nine plays, but a sack for a 14-yard loss by West Bladen’s Jonathan Robinson on fourth down gave the ball back to the Knights at their own 35 early in the second quarter.
West Bladen went three and out, and Scott Bowen’s punt traveled 40 yards, giving East Bladen possession at its own 32.
The Eagles’ first play was blown up by West linebacker Hunter Pait for a 3-yard loss and two runs put East Bladen in a fourth-and-5 situation at their own 37. But a fake punt saw the snap go to Ethan Hines, who raced 18 yards for a first down at the Knights’ 45.
An East Bladen run, penalty and incomplete pass set up a third-and-14 at the West Bladen 49 — and that’s when lightning struck. Eian Hines was cut loose on a fly pattern down the right sideline and outraced a defender to grab Bedsole’s perfect pass to score with 4:22 left in the half. Pierce Melvin booted the extra point for a 7-0 Eagles lead.
Each team traded a possession that went nowhere before halftime.
“Probably the best half of football we’ve played all year — I saw a different look in (the players’) eyes before the game,” Pait said. “But we need to sustain a drive and punch one in.”
East Bladen took the opening possession of the second half at its own 34 and marched to the Knights’ 31, highlighted by a 15-yard and 11-yard run by Wooten, but a fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
West Bladen moved its first possession to the Eagles’ 32 behind a 10-yard run by Drake and a fourth-down conversion with a 3-yard run by Bowen, but a fumble moments later was recovered by East’s Xavia McDowell to end the drive.
Each team ran three plays and punted to round out the third quarter.
East Bladen took the ball at its own 25 early in the fourth quarter and used eight plays — featuring a 9-yard run by James Higgins and a 13-yard run by Drake — to reach the West Bladen 40. On fourth down, Eian Hines, who had come in at quarterback, faked out the entire Knights defense with play-action and ran 40 yards for a touchdown — only to have it called back on a blocking penalty.
Starting back at the West 28, the Eagles could manage only 4 yards before turning the ball over on downs.
The Knights, however, couldn’t get any momentum and turned the ball back over to East Bladen at the West Bladen 40 — and the Eagles ran out the clock to preserve the win.
“We can’t take anything away from them,” East Bladen coach Robby Priest said. “They (West Bladen) played their butts off (and) when we don’t come out focused, it’s going to be a long night.”
The Eagles’s ground game was led by Wooten, who rushed for 101 yards on 18 carries, and Ethan Hines added 91 yards on 18 carries. Through the air, Bedsole was 1-of-7, but the one completion was the 51-yard touchdown to Eian Hines.
“I just can’t give enough credit to coach Baker and how that defense played tonight,” Pait said. “Our seniors should hold their heads high.”
The Knights were led by Drake, who rushed for 43 yards on 14 carries, while Barrett added 38 yards on nine carries.
East Bladen will host Heidi Trask on Friday in the regular-season finale at 7 p.m.
West Bladen will go on the road to Burgaw for the regular-season finale against Pender County on Thursday.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.