Eastern Alamance’s undefeated varsity football team faced its stiffest road test of the season thus far on Friday night, as the Eagles traveled to Greensboro to face conference foe Northern Guilford. But EAHS made their way to Greensboro a determined and fired-up group, and got off the bus ready to take care of business.
While the game was close early on, the visitors from Mebane eventually wore down the Nighthawks to claim a 47-14 victory. With the win, Eastern improves to 7-0 on the season, and a perfect 3-0 in Mid-State Conference play with four regular season contests left.
“I thought that we came out hungry. I thought we came out prepared. We had a great week of practice. And I felt like during the week of practice, our kids were focused,” EAHS head coach John Kirby said moments after the game. “They know. They know what is at stake.”
“Any time you can come to this place (Northern Guilford) and win, it’s a feather in your hat,” Kirby added. “We’re nervous and scared until they very end, just because of the reputation that they’ve got. I worried all week about this game, just because of the respect for their program.”
The Eagles struck first midway through the opening quarter, as Darius Kane made a leaping catch along the left sideline to move EAHS into Nighthawks territory. Seconds later, on a 3rd and 1 play, Eastern quarterback Austin Bryant nailed Kane with a strike over the middle for a 21-yard touchdown, giving the Eagles a 7-0 lead at the 5:15 mark of the first quarter.
Later in the opening period, Eastern’s opportunistic defense, which has been getting big plays all throughout the first two months of the regular season, once again took advantage of an opposing team’s mistake. The Eagles recovered a Northern Guilford fumble near their own sideline to start EAHS’s next offensive possession at the Nighthawks 40-yard line.
After the Eagles ran multiple times for a first down, and Bryant unsuccessfully attempted to connect deep with Kane near the end zone, Bryant was sacked on a third down play, which happened to be the last snap of the first quarter.
On a 4th-and-12 play at the NGHS 23-yard line to open the second quarter, the Eagles broke out some trickery, as Bryant threw a lateral to offensive lineman Kendell Ruffin, who had been made an eligible receiver on the play by standing behind Bryant in the offensive backfield.
Ruffin brought in Bryant’s short lateral and rambled 23 yards for a touchdown, trudging through two would-be Northern Guilford tacklers along the way.
“Several weeks ago, (EAHS assistant) Coach (Patrick) Stokes comes up and he says, ‘What do you think of this play?’” Kirby said of Ruffin’s scoring play. “Kendell Ruffin has got hands as good as anybody on the team. And I said, “Coach, I don’t think it’s legal. I think it’s an illegal receiver.’ So we researched it, and got approval and made sure (it was legal). Last week on ESPN, they showed something like this, and it was like, ‘Dang, we didn’t get to run it before.’”
The Nighthawks sideline pleaded to the officials that Ruffin’s 23-yard score was a forward pass to an ineligible receiver, but to no avail.
“He’s got to be behind the quarterback. It has to be a lateral,” Kirby explained. “That’s a big kid to bring down.”
The Eagles led 13-0 with 11:43 to play before halftime following a missed extra point, but then the Northern Guilford offense finally got its act together, marching 80 yards against the EAHS resistance to cut the Eastern lead to 13-7 with 6:32 to play before halftime.
Despite allowing its first score of the night, Eastern wasted no time getting going following Northern’s offensive uprising, as running back Colby May broke off a 41-yard run, moving EAHS from its own 39 down to the NGHS 20.
Eventually moving to a first and goal at the 4 following a Nighthawks pass interference penalty, Bryant took off on a bootleg and was smashed by a pair of Northern Guilford defenders as he pushed across the end zone. Although Bryant was stripped of the ball and one of the Nighthawks came away with it.
Despite even more protests from the Nighthawks sideline, the officials correctly ruled that Bryant had crossed the plane of the goal line before losing the ball. Jackson Poteat’s extra point gave the Eagles a 20-7 lead that ultimately held up into the halftime intermission.
As they did in the previous week’s road victory at Person, the Eagles got going quickly offensively in the second half, as Elijah Burnette found a seam and broke off a 66-yard carry for a touchdown that gave EAHS a 26-7 advantage just 62 seconds into the third quarter. Despite missing a two-point conversion, Burnette’s long touchdown run provided some important breathing room for the Eagles.
After stopping the Nighthawks on their next possession, Eastern continued to create separation, as Bryant lofted a long pass to Kane that the sophomore standout caught for a 47-yard gain from the EAHS 28 down to the Northern 25. May then blasted his way from the 19 down to the 3, which set up a short touchdown carry by the senior back to make the count 33-7 with 4:37 left in the third quarter.
Caleb Hester added to Northern Guilford’s second half misery by intercepting a pass near midfield, and a 27-yard pass from Bryant to Kane seemed to signal yet another Eastern touchdown was on its way. But Nighthawks Nkwenti Achina stripped Bryant off the ball, and the Nighthawks recovered.
Later in the second half, linebacker Joey Teixeira came up with another interception for the Eagles, which helped EAHS run out the clock in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles held their 33-7 advantage into the last period, and a 30-yard touchdown pass from Bryant to Lanier Rice made it 40-7 with 11:23 to play. Bryant finished the night with three touchdown passes, as well as a fourth on his third quarter scoring run. May and Burnette each added a pair of rushing touchdowns for the victorious Eagles.
“We’ve got some kids that are good players. We’ve got some athletic kids. I think up front, they gave Austin a lot of time to throw the football tonight. I think Austin is as good as there is. He makes things happen,” Kirby said. “Colby coming back and getting closer to full strength is a plus. Right now, Elijah is running with an attitude, because he’s saying, ‘This was my spot, and now we’re playing me on defense, and I don’t get to play (running back) as much.’ And Quentin (Idley) is going to give you all he’s got every time.”
The Nighthawks scored the game’s final touchdown a few seconds after Bryant’s pass to Rice.
On a 1st and 26 play from way back at its own 9, Northern came up with its biggest offensive play of the night, as Frogge caught a pass and raced 91 yards to a touchdown to make the score 40-14 with 10:43 left.
But despite the late score, Eastern knew they had beaten a quality football team in their own den - something that Kirby made a point to note to his team as they gathered moments after the postgame congratulatory handshake with the Nighthawks.
“I thought our defense played better tonight. To keep those guys in check to two touchdowns, is a feather in the hat,” he said.
At 7-0, the situation is laid out pretty simply for the Eagles. If they keep winning, they’ll claim the Mid-State Conference regular season title and earn a likely top two seeding in the upcoming NCHSAA playoffs. A top two seeding guarantees at least three home games in November if the Eagles can keep advancing each week.
The Eagles host 2-5 Rockingham this coming Friday night for Homecoming at Fred Brady Stadium, followed by back-to-back road games at Morehead October 25 and Western Alamance November 1. Eastern closes out the regular season by hosting McMichael on Senior Night back in Mebane November 8.
“The last couple of years, we’ve dug ourselves a hole. It was a situation where we’ve got to wait and see what they do to determine what we’re going to do. Now we control our own fate,” Kirby said.
As seems to always be the case in recent years, Eastern Alamance and Western Alamance are on a collision course, with their date in Elon November 1 serving as the probable de facto conference championship game.
Although Western lost early on to Williams, they have righted the ship and stand 6-1 overall, with an identical 3-0 mark in league play to Eastern. But the Warriors will face a difficult challenge the week before Eastern comes to town, as they’ll have to travel to McLeansville November 1 to face a tough Northeast Guilford squad.