BURGAW — It was a game whose ending was not worthy of its beginning — at least for the West Bladen Knights, who fell on Thursday to Pender County, 34-6.
West Bladen traveled to Burgaw to face the Patriots in the Four County Conference finale for the two teams. The main objective for the Knights was to end an eight-game skein and, for a moment, it looked promising.
On the game’s opening kickoff, Pender squibbed an on-sides kick that was pounced on by the Knights’ Trent West just inside West Bladen’s half of the field. Moments later, on the Knights’ second play, B.J. Drake bolted around the right side and raced to the end zone for a 54-yard touchdown. The extra point was missed, but West Bladen was up 6-0 just 48 seconds into the game.
It all came crashing down from there.
The Patriots took possession at its own 49 and, with one handoff, a 51-yard run put Pender County on the board. The point after went through the uprights and the Patriots were up 7-6 just 1:01 into the first quarter.
Pender County would never trail from there.
West Bladen manufactured a drive that appeared promising after runs by James Moore and Drake gained 23 yards, but things fizzled thanks to a fumble.
Neither team threatened through the rest of the opening quarter, but Pender County got a 70-yard touchdown run early in the second stanza and, after the PAT, took a 14-6 advantage with 10:59 left before halftime.
The Knights’ offense awakened with a 44-yard march that was highlighted by a 43-yard run to pay dirt by Drake, only to have it brought back on a West Bladen penalty. The Knights still managed to drive to the Patriots’ 11 before a penalty helped stall the effort at the Pender County 18.
The Patriots took over and used just five plays to move 82 yards — featuring a 69-yard touchdown pass. The extra point gave Pender County a 21-6 edge with 2:13 left in the half.
Three runs by Drake gained 18 yards for West Bladen on its next possession and, on his fourth straight carry from the Knights’ 38, Drake busted loose for a 42-yard run to the Patriots’ 20. But there was yellow on the field and it cost West Bladen the big gain and, ultimately, the ball. A fumble on the next play ended up in the hands of a Patriot defender, who raced 52 yards for a score. The point after gave Pender County a 28-6 lead at halftime.
The third quarter proved fruitless for both teams, each putting up goose eggs through the period and the 22-point lead by the Patriots held.
In the fourth quarter, the Patriots tacked on a 34-yard touchdown run and, thought the extra point was missed, Pender County held a 34-6 lead with 3:46 left.
Michael Hepburn gathered in the long kickoff at his own 18 for West Bladen and burst up the middle 67 yards to the Patriots’ 25. A personal foul penalty moved the ball back to the Pender 40, but Kerron Washington rushed for 13 yards — only to see a pass get picked off by Pender in the end zone on the Knights’ last play of the game.
“Everytime we moved the ball, the referees called it back,” said West Bladen coach Todd Pait. “We just didn’t bring the intensity and passion that we had last week (against East Bladen).
“This season has been a challenge, but we are building something to last here, something the school and community can take pride in,” he added. “It will just take a little patience from everyone involved, including myself.”
Drake led West Bladen with 175 yards rushing and a touchdown on 18 carries. Through the air, quarterback Scott Bowen was 4-of-8 for 21 yards — three of those passes were caught by Drake for 13 yards.
The Knights completed their injury riddled season at 2-9 overall and 0-7 in the conference.