ELIZABETHTOWN — For one team on Friday night, it will be the other bookend that brackets the 2016 season. For the other, a berth in the Class 2-A East Region finals will await.
East Bladen and South Columbus, which opened the regular season against each other — a game won by the Stallions, 29-22, in Elizabethtown — will collide in the third round of the state playoffs Friday in Vinegar Hill.
The two teams will join the same conference starting with the 2017 season.
“We’re both very different teams this time around,” said East Bladen coach Robby Priest. “Having another 12 games under our belt hopefully has made us better.”
The Eagles, 9-4 and seeded No. 3 out of the Four County Conference, advanced after a thrilling 28-21 win over No. 2 Ayden-Grifton last week in overtime. South Columbus, 11-2 and seeded No. 1 out of the Three Rivers Conference, advanced after a gaudy 75-42 win over No. 5 Fairmont.
“I think this will be a good atmosphere and a memorable game for everyone, especially the kids” Priest said.
But thinking about the task at hand, Priest knows there are numerous challenges that South Columbus will pose.
“They’re obviously good, athletic and tough,” he said. “We’re going to need to find a way to slow them down and be more physical.”
Coach Russell Dove’s offense operates out of the Wing-T and is guided by junior quarterback Robby Spencer, who has only thrown 23 passes all season. Instead, he will often hand off to a stable of running backs led by senior Dennis Leggett (1,575 yards and 20 touchdowns in the regular season), sophomore Trequan Bellamy (841 yards and 13 touchdowns in the regular season) and senior Aaron Bellamy.
The high-scoring Stallions have put 501 points on the board this season, a 38 points per game average.
On defense, South Columbus lines up in a 53 set and is led by a linebacking corps that includes junior Seth Buffkin, senior Kendrick Green, junior Saadiq Crooms and senior Colyn Fowler.
But the Stallions also have a beefy defensive line that includes the likes of senior Hugh Smith (6-5, 290), sophomore Caleb Fonvielle (6-3, 275), sophomore Dalton Worley (6-2, 350) and sophomore Evan Hardee (6-3, 300).
The South Columbus defense has allowed 274 points this season, a 21 points per game average.
“When we watched the film of that first meeting with (South Columbus), it looked like we were a jayvee team against them,” Priest said. “We’ll need to get even better than we have been lately.”
He added that his Eagles lost a number of turnovers in that first matchup, something they can’t afford to do against South Columbus — as well as have bad penalties.
beyond that, Priest is hoping there will be plenty of support from the local fans.
“We’d like to see a good crowd travel to the game,” he said. “We really appreciated the crowd that came all the way to Ayden last week, and it can make a difference this week.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.