Eastern again builds big early lead to improve to 3-0

Eastern Alamance's varsity football team built a commanding 28-0 lead Friday evening on its way to a 42-6 non-conference triumph over visiting Williams at Fred Brady Stadium. The Eagles once again put together a dynamic performance on both sides of the ball, getting big plays in the passing game and forcing multiple opposing turnovers. Eastern's first touchdown of the night came on a 55-yard catch and run by Lanier Rice (above). The 3-0 Eagles now prepare for a matchup with Southern Alamance, who handed Eastern a stunning loss a year ago. 

Although there were some concerns that Williams might come over to Mebane Friday night and give Eastern Alamance a scare, that didn’t turn out to be the case, as the Eagles built a commanding 28-0 halftime lead on their way to a 42-6 triumph. EAHS turned out the lights on the visiting Bulldogs with another dominant first half effort, controlling the tempo on both sides of the ball in building yet another big early advantage. 

It was a complete effort that made Eastern head coach John Kirby feel much better than the same time the week prior, when he watched the Eagles give up 32 points in less than two and a half quarters to Cummings after building another large early lead. 

“I feel much better tonight,” Kirby said moments after the Eagles finished off the Bulldogs. “I thought tonight we finished. I thought we came out with a different mindset. I think our kids played hard. We did some good things. And we beat a really good football team. I just can’t say enough about our offensive front. I can’t say enough about our defensive guys. I thought our defensive guys had a great scheme.”

The Eagles, who improve to 3-0 with the win, wasted no time asserting themselves, as they took the opening kickoff and marched the length of the field in a minute and a half for the game’s first score. Following a couple pass completions from quarterback Austin Bryant to wide receiver A.J. Camuto, Bryant made an excellent play that led to a 55-yard touchdown pass to receiver Lanier Rice.

On the scoring play, Bryant showed outstanding poise under pressure, rolling left, avoiding making a rushed pass, and then setting his feet to nail a streaking Rice along the left sideline. Rice broke through a would-be Williams tackler on his way to the end zone. 

After the two teams traded punts, Williams got a rambling first down on a scramble by Builldogs quarterback Kalihal Currie, but it was called back due to holding. It was the first of several holding penalties that squashed the offensive momentum of both teams at different points in the opening half. Once EAHS regained possession, the Eagles quickly marched to another touchdown. 

Following a pass completion from Bryant to junior tight end Chase Woody that brought the Eagles to the Williams 41-yard line, Bryant connected with Darius Kane over the middle for another Eastern first down. A sweep right by running back Elijah Burnette was good for a third first down in as many plays, pushing Eastern to the Bulldogs 15. 

On the next play, Bryant faked on a play-action pass, rolling right against the grain and nearly scoring before being pushed out of bounds at the Williams 2-yard line. Burnette piled over on the next play, and Eastern led 14-0 less than nine minutes in. 

Eastern again forced Williams to punt, and after running back Quentin Idley carried twice for an Eagles first down, Bryant found Rice again over the middle. This time the pass wasn’t completed, but the Bulldogs were called for pass interference. 

Idley subsequently ran the Eagles inside the Williams 20, and soon EAHS was staring at a first and goal. Bryant rolled right and found Rice, who scored from six yards out for his second touchdown of the first half, and a 21-0 Eagles lead 21 seconds into the second quarter. 

The EAHS defense continued its dominant play, continuously nailing Currie to the ground just after he let go of many pass attempts. The Eagles stuffed a reverse run attempt by the Bulldogs, along with a pass in the flats. A misdirection counter run was bottled up on third down by Eagles linebacker Joey Teixeira, who in an impressive show of sportsmanship, then assisted in helping up the Williams ball carrier off the ground. 

Currie was playing in place of Williams’ first option at quarterback, Kennedy Miles, who was injured and unavailable against the Eagles. But despite not having their top signal-caller, it can’t take away from what was undoubtedly a stout defensive effort by the Eagles. 

“It’s hard when you lose your quarterback. They lost him last week. It’s hard. It puts you in a bind,” Kirby said. “We’re happy. We’re excited that we’re 3-0. And like I said, I feel like we beat a good football team tonight. I think if we keep working and improving, great things will happen for this football team.”

On Eastern’s next offensive possession, a pass outside to Kane got EAHS yet another first down, and a rollout bootleg by Bryant got the Eagles to the Williams 30. Bryant then found Camuto wide open over the middle for a 30-yard touchdown, which made the count 28-0 with 8:35 left in the first half. That score held into halftime. 

The Eagles continued their flurry of first half defensive turnovers, picking up two more against Williams. Teixeira scooped up a fumble and ran it back to the Williams 35 after the Bulldogs had moved into EAHS territory midway through the second quarter. 

“He’s like a magnet (to the ball),” Kirby said of Teixeira. “But in order to do that, you’ve got to put yourself in position to do that. And I think he does. He and (fellow linebacker) Will (Burnette) and Darius, they’re just sophomores. I can’t say enough about them.” 

On Williams’ next offensive possession, Elijah Burnette leapt into the air and brought down an interception on a deep pass. Burnette’s interception gave EAHS the ball at its own 38, and the offense began another drive just before halftime. But a pair of holding penalties kept the Eagles from scoring a fifth touchdown before the half.  

Eastern’s first offensive possession of the second half was all Burnette, as the senior running back took a series of handoffs for a combined total of 44 yards. After moving the Eagles down to the Williams 15, and then the 6, Burnette scored on a 3rd-and-4 play to make the score 35-0 in favor of EAHS with 8:26 remaining in the third quarter. 

Although Williams moved into Eastern territory on its subsequent possession midway through the third quarter, Jordan Moore blocked a Bulldogs punt and Evan Powell made a recovery, giving EAHS the ball back at the Williams 27. The Eagles appeared to be marching to yet another score on the legs of Idley, but the junior back fumbled near the goal line, which Williams recovered inside its own 1. 

As the game moved into the fourth quarter, Eastern took a 42-0 lead following a long pass from Bryant to Kane, who caught the ball alone over the middle and was taken out of bounds around the Williams 1-yard line. Bryant plowed over on the next play, and the Eagles led 42-0 with 11:06 to play, which brought out the running clock to wind down the action. 

Kirby praised not only Bryant’s performance against the Bulldogs, but that of the EAHS offensive line, which consistently gave Bryant plenty of time to throw and space to run when he needed to take off outside the pocket. 

“I thought Austin played well tonight,” Kirby said. “Sometimes he might have taken off before he had to (on the runs), but Austin is a seasoned quarterback. He’ll be playing on Saturdays somewhere. I really believe that. He makes things click. He’s working to find out who his receivers are. They’re getting better. I thought our offensive line played really, really well. I thought that they came off the ball. I thought they won the line of scrimmage.” 

Williams finally put a successful scoring drive together as the clock wound down in the fourth quarter. By this point, the only drama that remained was whether or not Eastern could hold the shutout. The Bulldogs did manage to score with 2:40 to play - their only touchdown of the night. But it was another workmanlike outing for the Eagles, who are proving with each passing week that they are going to be a real handful for opponents. 

With the victory over Williams, the Eagles now look ahead to their final non-conference matchup of the regular season, as they’ll seek revenge for last year’s loss at Southern Alamance by beating the Patriots in the friendly confines of Fred Brady Stadium next Friday night. 

“Southern beat us last year. And they had a great year. It’s a rivalry within the county. Hopefully we’ll have a good week,” Kirby said of the upcoming matchup with the Patriots.