Eastern holds off Williams for important Central Conference triumph

Eastern Alamance sophomore running back Josh Murray breaks free for a long run during Friday night's road game at Williams. Murray broke off touchdown runs of 54 and 56 yards in the third quarter on his way to 176 rushing yards as the Eagles pulled away from the Bulldogs. EAHS trailed 13-7 at one point in the second quarter, but put together a series of five touchdowns late in the second quarter and early in the third quarter on their way to a 47-26 victory, which improves Eastern's overall record to 4-1, and its record in Central Conference play to 2-0. 

Eastern Alamance’s varsity football team picked up a huge Central Conference triumph Friday night at Williams, as the Eagles rallied from a second quarter deficit for an explosion of five touchdowns late in the second quarter and early in the third quarter on their way to a 47-26 victory. 

The win - Eastern’s fourth straight - gives the Eagles a 2-0 record in Central Conference play, a 4-1 overall record, and a commanding position heading into the October homestretch. 

“All us coaches, we look on paper and you try to do the figuring,” Eastern head coach John Kirby said moments after the game concluded. “Williams has knocked off Orange High School, and they’ve knocked off Northwood. We felt like coming into tonight’s game, the conference championship was going to have to run through Williams and Western Alamance. We had them back-to-back, so we’re kind of out of county from here out.”

The victory was Eastern’s first against new Williams head coach Patrick Stokes, Eastern’s longtime defensive coordinator who has gotten the Bulldogs into position for a postseason berth in his first season in Burlington. Williams came into the game with a 2-0 record in Central Conference play, and the Bulldogs could have positioned themselves for a conference title had they prevailed over the Eagles. 

As it was, Williams played hard and earned plenty of respect from the Eagles for the way they fought. 

“I felt like Williams came at us hard in the first half. We told our guys before the game ever started that we were going to take their best shot. They were going to come at us hard, they were going to be ready, and they were going to be hungry. There was no doubt in our mind that Coach Stokes was going to have his team ready for that,” Kirby said. “We talked about this before we came out here - we knew that we were going to get their best shot.”

The game started with both teams trading big plays on defense. Williams received the opening kickoff and got a couple of good runs to move into Eastern territory, but Kasen McCawley made an interception of a Jaelan Brown pass for the Eagles and returned it to the Williams 37. The Eagles subsequently moved inside the Bulldogs’ 10-yard line, but Hunter Douglas was intercepted by Izayah Ramsey in the end zone to thwart the threat. 

The first quarter ended scoreless, but late in the period Williams punted the ball back deep into Eastern’s side of the field - a solid strategic move that would help lead to the game’s first score. After Williams defensive tackle Santiago Herrera sacked Douglas, forcing a 4th-and-19 for the Eagles at their own 2, the Eagles mustered only 20 yards on a punt, giving Williams possession at the EAHS 22. A run by Alijah Richmond gave Williams a first down at the Eagles 10 on the last play of the first quarter, and Ramsey caught a touchdown pass from Brown for a 7-0 Bulldogs lead with 11:16 left in the first half. 

“They (Williams) did a great job on the offensive side. They did some things that I’m not sure we were ready for,” Kirby explained. “All those years - talking about Coach Stokes - the one thing that did give us some problems. All the time, he (Stokes) would always say what gives you more problems every year? One thing that I didn’t think about was when we played Western a couple of years ago, they were moving up front. We didn’t practice that this week, and by golly, that’s what they came out and started doing. We jumped a few times. But that’s smart on his part, and our kids adjusted to it as well.”

Eastern got the ball back at their own 33 and embarked on a methodical 67-yard scoring march, aided by completions from Douglas to Devin Clark, Ce’Darion Williams, and Triston Keck. From the Williams’ 11-yard line, running back Josh Murray rumbled left for a touchdown, but a procedure penalty nullified the score. A fumble pushed EAHS back to the 20, but Douglas fired a pass over the middle of the end zone that was caught at the back edge by a leaping Williams. The 20-yard touchdown tied the game at 7-7 with 5:28 left in the half. 

The Bulldogs regrouped offensively and put together a quick touchdown drive, keyed by a run by Richmond and a long pass from Brown to Ramsey to the Eastern 2. A brilliant second effort by Richmond, who fought through multiple would-be EAHS tacklers, led to a touchdown and a 13-7 Williams lead at the 3:14 mark of the second quarter. Will Burnette blocked the extra point for the Eagles, but the home team had the lead just before halftime. 

EAHS moved rapidly to midfield, where Douglas connected with Hunter Westbrooks along the right sideline for a 48-yard gain to the Williams 4. Douglas tumbled into the end zone soon after, and the extra point by Karsyn Johnson gave Eastern a 14-13 lead. The Eagles forced a stop defensively, and regained possession in the final two minutes of the half. On a first down at the Williams 24, Douglas threw to Clark along the right sideline, who cut left towards the middle of the field and outran a couple Williams defenders to the end zone, diving over the goal line. 

Clark’s 24-yard touchdown gave the Eagles a 21-13 lead with only 42.2 seconds left in the first half, but Williams wasn’t done. A solid hurdling run by Richmond pushed the Bulldogs near midfield, and a screen pass to Richmond moved Williams to the EAHS 25, where they called timeout with only 15.7 seconds on the first half clock. On the final play of the half, with just 2.3 seconds on the clock, Brown connected with Ramsey over the middle on another screen pass. Ramsey raced left and beat the Eagles to the goal line, and while the Bulldogs were stuffed on a pass play on a two-point conversion attempt, they were within just two points of the Eagles, 21-19, at halftime. 

“They (Williams) came out with a little trickery, tried to run a reverse. Last play before the half they run a screen, and we didn’t have an answer for it,” Kirby said. “Then they came back and ran it again, and we still didn’t have an answer for it.”

Williams punched Eastern in the mouth just before halftime, but the Eagles came out and wasted no time getting on the scoreboard in the third quarter, with Josh Murray taking a handoff between the tackles and bursting free on a 54-yard touchdown at the 11:11 mark of the third quarter. EAHS took a 27-19 lead, and the Eagles were off and running. On Williams’ first possession of the second half, Coleman Mahan fumbled, and Eastern’s Dontrell Lee scooped it up and raced all the way back for an Eastern touchdown. Lee’s score proved to be the turning point of the game, as the Eagles broke out to a 33-19 lead. 

Eastern got a stop on defense, and the Eagles went 61 yards for another score. Following a pass over the middle from Douglas to Williams, which pushed EAHS to the Williams 44, Murray broke free again for a 56-yard touchdown, making the score 40-19 at the 6:48 mark of the third quarter. 

“I can’t say enough about our players. I thought Josh Murray played one heck of a football game. I thought he had some seams to run in. I thought our offensive line did a good job. Credit to those guys,” said Kirby. “Josh is on a mission when he’s running the ball hard. If you give him a seam, he gets in it. And the great thing about that, he’s just a sophomore. I’m proud of him.”

To its credit, Williams didn’t give up, as a third down screen pass from Brown to Ramsey turned into a 30-yard touchdown for the Bulldogs and a 40-26 score with 3:34 left in the third quarter. But Ramsey’s third touchdown reception of the evening proved to be Williams’ last score of the night. Ramsey would leave the game early in the fourth quarter after appearing to injure his right leg. 

Leading 40-26 heading into the fourth quarter, the Eagles would embark on one more scoring march, with Douglas hitting Keck on a rollout pass for an 8-yard touchdown with 9:42 left in the game. The Eagles and Bulldogs traded punts and EAHS successfully ran out the clock down the stretch, and the visitors from Mebane had a huge win. Eastern’s margin of victory could have been even higher, but a fumble recovery by Williams near their own goal line late in the third quarter took away what could have been yet another Eastern Alamance touchdown. 

“The thing that scared us all week was those two inside linebackers at Williams. 28 (Grayson Loy) and 22 (Will Rhodes), they’re good. We think ours are good, but theirs are good as well,” Kirby said. “I thought that Hunter Douglas did a good job of controlling the offense. You take away the fumble - or the so-called fumble - down here on the bottom, and the interception in the first half, we were pretty good on offense.”

Douglas finished the game 19-of-25 passing for 232 passing yards with three touchdowns and one interception, while Murray finished with 176 rushing yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns. Ce’Darion Williams had five catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, while Hunter Westbrooks added five catches for 60 yards. Devin Clark had four catches for 48 yards and a touchdown, while Triston Keck added three receptions for 31 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, linebacker Joey Teixeira had 21 tackles (11 solo, 10 assisted), while Carter Stallings added 17 tackles (eight solo, nine assisted).

“We’ve got some kids that can make plays,” Kirby added. “Devin Clark is a playmaker. Kasen McCawley is a playmaker. Ce’Darion Williams is a playmaker. Obviously Josh Murray is a playmaker. And then you add Hunter Westbrooks and Hunter Douglas into the mix. We’ve got some guys. I was told a long time ago to go far in the playoffs, you had to have a three-headed monster. You have to have different guys you can go to. I think we’ve got more than three.” 

Eastern was initially scheduled to play 2A powerhouse Reidsville High School at home on Friday night, but that particular game has been cancelled due to COVID-19 protocols within the Reidsville High varsity team. EAHS’s Homecoming festivities have been changed to October 22, when the Eagles host Northwood at Fred Brady Stadium in the final regular season home game. As it stands, the Eagles have a bye week on Friday, October 8. 

The Eagles now look ahead to a key series of showdowns in October against league rivals Person, Northwood, and Orange. If EAHS can prevail in those three games, they will go undefeated in Central Conference play, win a league title, and take a high seeding and long winning streak into the November state playoffs. 

“I’m very proud of our group. We’re undefeated in our county. That’s where we want to be,” Kirby said. “We’ve got Northwood left, and we’ve got Orange left, and we play Person. We’re not going to overlook anyone. We’re going to go one at a time, and see how it goes.”