Eastern Alamance faced its stiffest challenge over the first month of its regular season schedule Friday night, as the Eagles hosted Southern Alamance at Fred Brady Stadium. The Patriots made the short northern trek to Mebane holding a 2-0 record, along with the memories of last year’s big win over the Eagles in Swepsonville.
EAHS has been harboring resentment over that loss for a year, and wanted to make sure that they repaid the favor this time around. Mission accomplished, as the Eagles used a balanced offensive attack and a bend but don't break defensive effort to claim a 40-20 triumph.
“I think anytime you win a crosstown rivalry game, it’s a big win,” Eastern head coach John Kirby said moments after the game. “Despite records, despite whatever, whenever you play Southern Alamance, it’s always a great football game. They’re a hard-nosed football team, and that’s exactly what we needed tonight. It was a great night for high school football.”
As has been the case all season thus far, the Eagles wasted little time getting on the scoreboard, as they used a little surprise to set up the game’s first score. Quarterback Austin Bryant hit sophomore wideout Darius Kane, who then pitched the ball back to senior running back Elijah Burnette. The unorthodox play gained over 30 yards, leading to a Burnette 14-yard score and a 7-0 EAHS lead just three minutes in.
Southern Alamance came up with a surprise of its own, as the Patriots managed to do something that none of Eastern’s first three opponents were able to do - break off a big play on the Eastern defense early in the game.
A halfback pass to Emmett Raggett propelled the Patriots 58 yards all the way to the EAHS 10, where they scored on the next play on a carry by running back Trevor Woods.
“It started off with a little trickery, and they hit us back with a little trickery themselves,” Kirby said. “It was one of those deals where they came at us. We’ve got to have games like that, you know. And you’ve got to face adversity. I thought we did some uncharacteristic things that we haven’t done all year. But we found a way to overcome it.”
The Eagles offense quickly went back to work, as Bryant connected with Kendall Montgomery for one EAHS first down, and then Lanier Rice for another. Then, on a third-and-11 play, Bryant hit David Bunker for a touchdown. Although the extra point was missed, the Eagles held a 13-7 advantage at the conclusion of the first quarter.
“A.J. got hurt early, and Bunker goes in and makes a great catch and gets a touchdown,” Kirby said. “I thought our offensive line played good at times. Sometimes they put a little pressure on us.”
The second quarter was filled with penalties and mistakes on both sides until the Patriots put together a scoring drive based largely on the ground. Woods scored his second touchdown for the Patriots with 2:47 left in the first half, tying the game at 13-13. The Eagles came through with a blocked extra point to the keep the score tied.
Despite some problems that hindered prior drives in the second quarter, the Eagles put it all together again for an important scoring march just before halftime. A long run by Burnette, who finished the night with 16 carries for 154 rushing yards, pushed EAHS to the Southern Alamance 31-yard line. Quentin Idley ran the Eagles inside the Patriots 15 as the clock wound down under two minutes, and Bryant connected with A.J. Camuto on a short dart over the middle, which gave the Eagles a 20-13 halftime advantage.
It took EAHS less than three minutes into the third quarter to take control of the game, as the Eagles took possession and went the length of the field. A pass from Bryant to Rice got EAHS back into Patriots territory, and a run by Burnette got the Eagles to the 25.
A near-interception by Southern Alamance’s Dominic Wise was quite a scare, but Bryant quickly recollected, sneaking the Eagles to a vital first down on a 4th-and-1 play. He then hit A.J. Camuto with his second touchdown reception, this one covering 14 yards. The ensuing extra point by Jackson Poteat gave EAHS a 27-13 advantage.
The two teams spent much of the rest of the third quarter trading punts, but Southern slot back Hunter Harrelson came through with a 60-yard reception late in the quarter, giving the Patriots the ball at the EAHS 20. Southern would get as close as the Eastern 8-yard line, but the Eagles came through with a huge defensive stand, stifling the threat and forcing a turnover on downs following a stuffed run and two pass incompletions.
“Our defense gave up some big ones, but they also made some big stops as well,” Kirby said.
Moments after the red zone stand came the biggest offensive play of the night for the Eagles, as Bryant found Kane wide open in a seam to the right. Kane brought in the pass and scored from 62 yards out, which gave EAHS a 33-13 cushion in the final two minutes of the third quarter. Kane finished with 95 yards on three catches.
Southern managed to put together a touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter to pull within 33-20 with 7:32 left, but the Eagles kept their composure and started winding down the clock.
Following a controversial onside kick that Southern Alamance recovered but the officials ruled did not go the required 10 yards, the Eagles began their final scoring march. Although a EAHS personal foul pulled them back for a 3rd-and-23 at the 5:16 mark, Bryant came through with another key play, rolling to his right after getting pressured and finding Camuto downfield along the right sideline.
Camuto’s reception set EAHS up at the Southern Alamance 2, and Bryant pushed over the goal line on the next play, providing Eastern’s final margin of victory. Bryant finished the evening with 261 passing yards, four passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown.
“I thought Austin played well again tonight. I don’t think Austin has ever lacked in confidence. I think he is full of confidence. He believes in himself, and our players believe in him,” Kirby said.
Although it was a chippy game, filled with smack talk, occasional pushing and shoving, as well as some personal foul penalties, Kirby was pleased with the way the Eagles responded to a challenge.
“We need somebody that came at us, and they did,” Kirby said of Southern Alamance. “They might have come at us a little bit too hard there for a while, but I was proud of our guys. We had some adversity tonight, but we overcame that adversity and made some things happen."
Eastern now gets a week off from game action, and they’ll spend the following week healing up, resting up, and preparing for another home game September 27, as they’ll open Mid-State Conference play against Northeast Guilford. The Eagles are expecting to have running back Colby May back in the lineup for Rams after he missed the opening four games with a collarbone injury.
“I’m excited where we are as a football team. I think we all picked it up,” Kirby added. “The thing that concerns us is we had way too many penalties tonight. That’s something we can work on next week. The things we didn’t go good tonight, we can work on next week and the following week, and continue to get better.”