Eagles advance to East Region semifinals with convincing win over Westover

Eastern Alamance senior Ce'Darion Williams is off to the races on a 46-yard touchdown reception in the early moments of the third quarter of the Eagles' 43-12 victory Friday night over Fayetteville Westover in the third round of the NCHSAA 3A East Region state playoffs. Williams' long touchdown reception gave Eastern a commanding 28-6 lead on their way to the team's tenth straight victory. The Eagles (10-1) will host Jacksonville (10-2) Friday night in the East Regional semifinals, with a berth in the Regional Championship game at stake. 

Eastern Alamance’s varsity football team marched on Friday night in its quest to bring a NCHSAA 3A state football championship to Mebane. The Eagles, the top seed in the East Region, won their tenth straight game by dispatching Fayetteville Westover, 43-12. The Eagles (10-1) took advantage of a series of errors by Westover (10-2), while making several big plays on offense, to advance to the Regional semifinals. The Eagles next challenge will come from Jacksonville, who defeated Lee County Friday night in a 25-22 overtime thriller in Sanford. 

“It’s an overall team effort,” Eastern head coach John Kirby said shortly after the game concluded. “That game was a lot closer than 43-12. We made a goal line stand. They had a holding (penalty), and they fumbled. We blocked an extra point. We blocked a field goal attempt. A fumble recovery over here, and a fumble recovery over here. And our offense made plays. You know, the score is bad - 43-12 - but that game was a lot closer than that.”

Westover came to Mebane with a lofty 10-1 record, including a pair of lopsided victories over Vance County and North Brunswick in the opening two rounds of the playoffs. The Wolverines were one of the more talented teams the Eagles have faced all season, featuring two standout seniors who were selected to play in the prestigious Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas - linebacker Twan Anderson, and wide receiver/kick returner Jamari Stallion. 

But the Eagles once again proved to be the superior all-around team, as they didn’t turn the ball over for the second straight week, and took advantage of every mistake the Wolverines made. 

“If you play with all you’ve got and give a lot of effort, good things are going to happen to you,” Kirby said. “We got a little lucky tonight, but sometimes we think we might have forced that luck. We’ve done a good job of taking care of the football. I can’t say enough about our football team, and they way they’re playing. They’re playing smart. They’re playing hard. I’m just so proud of our football team. Right now it’s survive and move on. We’re going into Thanksgiving weekend in the fourth round of the playoffs, and we’re excited.”

Westover took the opening kickoff after the Eagles deferred to the second half, but EAHS forced a quick three-and-out. A nice punt return by Kasen McCawley set up the Eagles at the Westover 28-yard line, and it only took one play for the home team to get on the scoreboard. On first down, quarterback Hunter Douglas dropped back and hit McCawley on a deep route in the right corner of the end zone. McCawley’s 28-yard touchdown reception gave Eastern a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game. 

Westover responded with a touchdown drive of its own, as the Wolverines converted a third down middle screen to Stallion for a 30-yard gain to move out near midfield. Quarterback Joshua Jones, manning Westover’s fast-paced, no-huddle offensive approach, completed a pass to Justin Frazier-Tomlin to the Eastern Alamance 39. From there, Jones scrambled the Wolverines to their first touchdown, breaking multiple tackles on his way to the end zone. Although the Eagles stuffed Westover’s two-point conversion attempt, the visitors from Fayetteville pulled within 7-6 at the 7:11 mark of the first quarter. 

The game moved into the second quarter with the Eagles leading by a point, as Anderson came through with a sack for Westover on a fourth down play to kill one Eastern Alamance drive, and the Eagles responded by forcing a Wolverines punt. Eastern would go for it on another fourth down play near midfield in the final seconds of the opening quarter, but Westover came up with another stop to reclaim possession. 

It appeared for a moment as though Westover had taken the lead when Jones nailed Stallion for a 40-yard touchdown, but an ineligible receiver downfield penalty nullified the go-ahead score. The Wolverines quickly regrouped, as a brilliant diving catch by Stallion near the sidelines set the Wolverines up at the EAHS 20, and another tackle-breaking scramble by Jones gave Westover first-and-goal at the Eagles 5. But the Eastern defense came up with the first of two goal line stoppages in the second quarter, which changed the momentum of the entire game. 

After a pair of run stops by the Eagles on first and second down, Will Burnette came up with a key pass deflection over the middle on third-and-goal. Westover chose to attempt a field goal to try and take the lead, but Burnette came through again for the Eagles, blocking Tyrese Virgo’s kick to give the Eagles the ball at their own 8. 

Douglas wasted little time getting the Eagles on the move, connecting with Hunter Westbrooks for a 19-yard gain to the EAHS 27. A run by Tyrek Samuel gained five yards, and Douglas picked up another first down by trucking a Westover defender on a bootleg to the Eagles 39. Samuel gained another five yards on a first down run, and Douglas hit Devin Clark over the middle of the field to give the Eagles another first down past midfield. 

A pass from Douglas to McCawley gave Eastern a first down at the Westover 21-yard line, and then Douglas hit McCawley again, this time for a 21-yard touchdown pass. On the scoring play, Douglas eluded the hard charge of Anderson, and then let go of a deep ball before Anderson could redirect and take him down. McCawley had gotten behind the Westover secondary, and hauled in the pass over the middle of the end zone near the back line. McCawley’s second touchdown reception gave Eastern a 14-6 lead with 4:06 remaining in the first half. 

Westover started its next possession at its own 12-yard line, and a pair of pass completions from Jones to Stallion pushed the Wolverines out to their own 36. A personal foul penalty on the Eagles moved Westover into Eastern territory, and on first down, the Wolverines went deep, as Jones sailed a long ball over the middle that was caught by Stallion on another daring diving catch. 

Westover had a first-and-goal at the EAHS 1, poised to potentially tie the game. But on the very next play, Eastern stripped Jones of the ball as he attempted to scramble over the goal line, and the Eagles recovered. It was the second gut-wrenching missed touchdown opportunity for Westover in the second quarter, and they wouldn’t overcome it. 

“I think (the pair of goal line stops) gave our guys confidence,” Kirby explained. “They hit us on a big play, and then they fumbled. Anytime you can make plays like that, if you’re on one end of it, it kills you. But if you’re on the other end, it gives you some momentum. It kind of felt like that’s what happened last week, too (against Havelock in the second round). We’re on the 1-yard line and didn’t get the ball in. We’ve got to build on that. I thought those guys (on the Eagles defense), they swarmed the ball and they played hard.”

Eastern promptly went on the march again for its second scoring drive of more than 90 yards in the minutes leading up to halftime. A 30-yard run by Josh Murray on a draw play moved the Eagles out to their own 36, and a subsequent pass to Ce’Darion Williams gave Eastern another first down at their own 46. Following a timeout with 57.5 seconds remaining in the first half, Douglas completed a 9-yard pass to Clark at the Westover 45, setting up a 3rd-and-1. Another completion to Clark gave the Eagles a first down at the Wolverines 35. 

A block in the back penalty on a pass completion to McCawley forced the Eagles to set up at the Westover 15 with just 7.2 seconds on the clock, but the offense came through again, as Douglas hit McCawley over the middle, and a gallant second effort pushed McCawley across the goal line for his third touchdown reception of the first half. 

The Eagles went into the locker rooms for halftime leading 21-6, having sucked all the momentum away from the Wolverines. 

“I can’t say enough about Kasen McCawley. I mean, last week we thought was his best performance, and this week, he might have topped it,” Kirby said. 

Westover tried to regain the momentum on the second half kickoff with a surprise onside kick, but the Eagles recovered. A pair of runs by Murray gave the Eagles a first down on the Westover 46, and on the next play, Douglas threw to Williams on the right side near the line of scrimmage. Williams took advantage of a key block in the flats by Westbrooks and outran the Wolverines secondary to the end zone for a 46-yard touchdown. The Eagles led 28-6 with 11:25 remaining in the third quarter. 

Having failed on numerous opportunities in the second quarter, Westover finally got back on the scoreboard midway through the third quarter, as Jones connected with Jansen Gibbs for a 17-yard score to pull the Wolverines within 28-12. But the Eagles would counter, taking advantage of a fumble by Westover wide receiver Kaivaughn Spence. McCawley recovered the loose ball and ran it down to the Westover 10-yard line. 

Following a 4-yard run by Murray, Douglas bootlegged his way to the goal line for a 6-yard touchdown run. On the ensuing extra point, McCawley, the holder, caught the snap and instinctively took off running, turning what would have been a blocked kick into a two-point conversion and a 36-12 Eagles lead. 

Eastern scored the game’s final touchdown seconds later, following a fumble by Stallion on the kickoff return. Taking possession at the Westover 18, the Eagles overcame a holding penalty as Douglas drilled Westbrooks on the right side for a 35-yard touchdown. Westbrooks made an excellent over-the-shoulder catch on the scoring play, which gave the Eagles a 43-12 lead heading into the fourth quarter. 

The fourth quarter went by scoreless, although one of the game’s most consequential plays took place midway through the final period as Douglas fell awkwardly on a running play and left the game. Coach Kirby confirmed afterwards that Douglas went straight to the hospital, having possibly suffered a significant shoulder injury that could impact his ability to play against Jacksonville. 

“We had Hunter in at the end just to hand the ball off. Actually he’s going to the hospital. He may have dislocated his shoulder. We’re not sure right now. We’re hoping it’s nothing but precautionary. He’s a big part of our football team,” Kirby explained. 

Douglas finished the game 14-of-29 passing for 286 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions, while Murray led the way on the ground for the Eagles with 65 rushing yards on 10 carries. McCawley had five catches for a team-high 111 receiving yards and three touchdowns, while Westbrooks, Williams, and Clark had four receptions - Westbrooks for 73 yards, Williams for 65 yards, and Clark for 36 yards. 

Teixeira had a whale of a game defensively for the Eagles, with a combined 28 tackles (11 solo, 17 assisted), while five other EAHS defenders were in double digits in tackles. Will Burnette had 17 tackles (seven solo, 10 assisted), McCawley had 15 tackles (eight solo, seven assisted), Payton Wright had 13 tackles (seven solo, six assisted0, and Dontrell Lee and Jake Libbey had 10 tackles each (five solo, five assisted for both). 

Although Douglas’s injury put a slight damper on Eastern’s convincing victory, the Eagles will quickly regroup and begin preparing for what lies ahead. 

“I think we’d feel better about it knowing what our quarterback situation is going to be right now. I do think our kids - we’re getting better each and every week. We’re going to have to, going into the next round. They’re all pretty doggone good right now,” Kirby said. 

Jacksonville (10-2), the No. 13 seed, will come to Mebane winners of five straight games, including back-to-back road wins in state playoff competition against higher-seeded teams in No. 4 seed Wilson Hunt and No. 5 seed Lee County. The Cardinals, who eliminated Eastern in the third round of the NCHSAA 3A state playoffs back in 2018 on their way to the state championship game, knocked off Eastern’s biggest rival, Western Alamance, in the first round of the playoffs this fall. 

For the Eagles, it’s always a thrill to be practicing and playing the week of Thanksgiving, and they’ll continue a long-standing tradition of coming together to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday morning prior to their final pregame warmup leading into the all-important showdown with the Cardinals. 

If the Eagles can defeat Jacksonville, they will host the winner of Friday’s other East Region semifinal matchup, between Scotland County and Greenville Rose, in the NCHSAA 3A East Regional championship game on December 3. 

“Our thing right now is we’ll enjoy the weekend. Monday and Tuesday will be regular for us, because we’re in school. We’ll probably go Wednesday morning, and we try to make a big deal here on Thanksgiving morning to have breakfast and give thanks just for being able to play the game,” Kirby explained. “It’s kind of been a tradition. We’re very excited to be back Thanksgiving weekend.”