Eastern buries Western, 42-7, eyes undefeated regular season

Eastern Alamance senior Lanier Rice hauls in one of his three touchdown receptions in Friday night's 42-7 victory over Western Alamance. Rice made three touchdown receptions in the win, while Darius Kane added two more scoring receptions. A pick-six by Elijah Burnette in the third quarter gave the Eagles a 42-0 advantage, bringing out the running clock. With the win, the Eagles have won the Mid-State Conference regular season title. If the Eagles can win next Friday on Senior Night against McMichael and complete an undefeated regular season, EAHS could still earn the No. 1 overall seeding in the upcoming NCHSAA 3A state playoffs, which would allow the Eagles to play at home in Fred Brady Stadium all the way up to the neutral-field state championship game.

Eastern Alamance traveled to Elon for Friday night’s Mid-State Conference showdown with Western Alamance a focused and determined team. For the EAHS seniors, this would be their last opportunity to take down the Warriors - their last chance to stake claim to a conference title. 

From the opening minute, the Eagles proved to be the much better team, scoring on their first play from scrimmage and putting forth another dominant defensive effort in a 42-7 victory, which improves the Eagles to 10-0, and 6-0 in league play. 

The Eagles have now clinched the Mid-State regular season title, and will go after an undefeated regular season next Friday on Senior Night back in Mebane against McMichael. 

“I think that sometimes as a coach, you’ve got a good feeling if your team is ready to play or not. When you walked into the locker room (before the game), you got the feeling that they were focused on the task at hand,” EAHS head coach John Kirby said. “It was one of those things where I think in their mind - we haven’t beaten Western in four years. We’ve got a good senior class, and they just weren’t going to be denied. They prepared well this week. It was just an overall deal. It was good. I think they’re excited. We accomplished two of our goals. We won the Alamance County championship, and we won the conference championship.”

Things started quickly for the Eagles offensively after the EAHS defense held off the Warriors on their opening offensive possession. On first down, Austin Bryant handed off to Colby May on the game’s very first offensive play. May tossed the ball back to Bryant on the flea-flicker, and Bryant connected with Darius Kane for a 45-yard touchdown and a 7-0 EAHS lead less than five minutes into the game. EAHS’s long scoring play set the tone for the entire night, as the Eagles demonstrated from the outset that they were there to take care of business. 

“We ran a flea-flicker for a touchdown (on our first play),” Kirby said. “It just kind of set the tone, it seemed like. I thought our offensive and defensive lines played extremely well.”

The remainder of the first quarter and the opening minutes of the second quarter was a defensive stalemate, but after EAHS’s defense stuffed the Warriors on another drive, they gave the ball back to the offense and Bryant led another scoring march, connecting with fellow senior Lanier Rice for a touchdown, which gave the Eagles a 14-0 lead with seven minutes left before halftime. 

Eastern would get another score before halftime, as they regained possession and Bryant hooked up again with Kane, who scored his second touchdown from 38 yards out at the 3:10 mark for a 21-0 halftime lead for the Eagles. Kane only had two catches on the night, but both went for touchdowns. With his 83 yards in the game, Kane now has 932 yards on the season, which means he needs only 68 receiving yards Friday night to reach the 1,000-yard plateau. 

“Darius Kane obviously had another great night. Darius is on track to break a few records as far as receiving. He does a good job of catching, and he also does a good job of blocking downfield,” Kirby said. 

After Eastern took the opening kickoff of the second half the Eagles once again picked up the offensive blitz, as Bryant connected with Rice for his second touchdown of the night. Although the extra point was blocked, the Eagles had a commanding 27-0 lead early in the second half. 

EAHS’s defense continued to stifle the Warriors, who managed less than 150 yards of total offense against the Eastern resistance. Following a third touchdown pass from Bryant to Rice midway through the third quarter, Eastern safety Jackson Stokes got in the way of a Western Alamance pass attempt, and Elijah Burnette caught the tipped ball in stride. Burnette raced all the way to the end zone, and the Eagles, with a 42-0 lead at the 4:19 mark of the third quarter, had settled the issue. 

“I felt like our defense flew to the ball,” Kirby said. “Jordan Moore played well. Cole Jordan got hurt early in the game. They’re thinking he may have a high-ankle sprain. Sometimes that’s worse than a (regular) sprain. We could be looking at him being out a few weeks. Austin Kimrey came in and did a great job of filling that void.”

Western managed a late score to get on the board and avoid a shutout, but that was the only consolation for the Warriors, who suffered their first loss on the gridiron in four years to the Eagles. 

Bryant finished the evening 7-of-11 passing for 196 yards, while May added over 160 rushing yards. 

“I thought that Austin had a great night,” Kirby said. “I thought that Colby ran the ball hard. Colby ran the ball like Colby is supposed to run the ball. It wasn’t any tip-toeing. It was running through and around and out-running. Our defense played really well.”

Senior Jackson Poteat got motivated for his head-to-head matchup with Stanford-bound Western Alamance place kicker Joshua Karty - the nation’s No. 1 place kicker. Poteat blasted kickoff after kickoff out of the back of the end zone for touchbacks, forcing the Warriors to start with less-than-ideal field position all evening. 

“Jackson Poteat did a great job kicking off. The hype is about the kicker at Western, but he (Poteat) is kicking them out of the end zone,” Kirby said.

One of the more interesting sidebars to Eastern’s big win was the way the team carried themselves immediately afterwards. After a very brief celebration on the field at Western, the Eagles players quietly got onto the bus and rode back to Mebane in silence - their business trip concluded. 

“It’s kind of weird. After the game, they’re excited,” Kirby said of the EAHS players. “We huddle up, they’re excited. We get on the bus, you could hear a pin drop. They were just kind of in their own deal. I think this team doesn’t show emotions a lot. I think they’re good high school football players. They take it like it’s a business. I think it’s been good for us. They don’t get too high. They don’t get too low. They just kind of focus on what’s ahead, and go with it. We were coming back, and you wouldn’t think we’d won by the sound of this bus. I’m not complaining.”

With the win, Eastern has solidified its playoff positioning significantly. By earning the Mid-State Conference regular season title, the Eagles have set themselves apart against much of the NCHSAA 3A playoff field.

If EAHS can beat McMichael this week as widely expected, they will complete the school’s first undefeated regular season since 2015. After such a complete performance in the win over Western, Kirby is hopeful that the emotions and unique motivations that a Senior Night brings to Eastern High to get fired up to take down the Phoenix. 

“I think going into McMichael, it is Senior Night. That’s some motivation, because that’s the last regular season home game that 23 of them will ever play at Eastern. We’re going to be at home for a round or two. But there’s nothing like that last regular season home game. I think that’s motivation,” Kirby said. “There’s a difference getting up for Western Alamance than it will be for McMichael. But I think our kids will rise and do well. It’s our hope that we can play a lot of those seniors - some of them that don’t get to play a whole lot get to play as well. That’s the hope.” 

While there is still a chance that Eastern could earn the No. 1 overall seed in the East Region, meaning the Eagles wouldn’t have to play a true road game in the state playoffs, the presence of two other unbeatens - Southern Nash and Havelock - in the East playoffs means that Eastern could wind up being the No. 3 seed, forcing them to hit the road in the third round. 

“I’m not smart enough to figure out all those graphs and rankings. The guys on our staff that follow that staff - I think it’s us, Southern Nash, and Havelock. They seem to think that we won’t jump those two, so we’ll probably be a No. 3 seed,” Kirby explained.