Bruins outmuscle Cougars 10-7 for share of EPC title

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PINETOPS — Needing two first downs to exhaust the remainder of the clock Friday night, Sean Jones scampered up the middle and placed a SouthWest Edgecombe defender flat on his back. Jalil Hutcherson’s shifty run off the right side finished it off.

Technically, it wasn’t a welcome to a new era of Beddingfield High football, one that began 11 games ago with the first contest under the direction of longtime assistant coach and alum James Ward. But a 10-7 victory over the Cougars on their Senior Night could certainly pass for an affirmation.

The Bruins, in Ward’s first season at the helm, secured a share of the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference title alongside the Cougars and Nash Central. Beddingfield (7-4, 4-1 EPC), in a draw conducted Thursday, secured the No. 3 seed from the league. SouthWest grabbed the No. 1 seed in the draw, while Nash Central was the No. 2. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoff brackets will be unveiled Saturday afternoon.

Despite getting the short end of the draw, Ward told a jubilant Beddingfield postgame huddle that he would indeed be getting conference championship T-shirts on Saturday.

At times, Beddingfield looked more like a traditional SouthWest (9-2, 4-1 EPC) outfit in the way it controlled the line of scrimmage and committed to running the football. The Bruins, blocking aggressively at the point of attack, were penalized 12 times for 93 yards. Yet the trio of Jones, a senior, sophomore Hutcherson and senior Marcus Parker combined to produce 269 yards on the ground. Defensively, the Bruins held the Cougars to just 85 total yards, all on the ground. Parker and junior Zach Adams helped lead a tenacious defense that did not permit SouthWest to break a big play.

“I thought we could come out and run the ball,” Ward said. “I really did. I thought (SouthWest) came out, playing us in a 4-4 and the changes that we made on the offensive line the last two weeks, ever since the Nash Central game. We made two big changes since the Nash Central game, and it meant the world to us.”

Beddingfield set the tone for the game on its opening possession, taking the ball off its 4-yard line and churning out 15 running plays to reach the Cougars’ 9-yard line. The drive didn’t end in a touchdown, but senior kicker Jose Cabrera was sent out to attempt a 26-yard field goal. Cabrera’s kick split the uprights, staking Beddingfield to a 3-0 lead.

SouthWest’s only TD was set up by a Beddingfield miscue. In the second quarter, Jones had a pass that was tipped into the air and intercepted by junior Dashon Bandy. Bandy ran it back to the 2-yard line, where senior Alex Foster punched it in on the next play. Dillon Garbrandt, one of 18 SouthWest seniors, added the PAT to put the Cougars up 7-3.

Beddingfield took the second-half kickoff and capped the drive with an 8-yard dash from Hutcherson. Hutcherson led the Bruins with 119 yards on 18 carries, while Jones tacked on an even 100 yards with 20 carries. Parker added 15 touches for 66 yards.

The Bruins had two potential touchdowns go by the wayside in the third quarter. Driving in SouthWest territory, Jones had his receiver wide open on a slant route, but the pass was dropped with no one in front.

Parker had a magnificent 77-yard TD run wiped away late in the third quarter when the Bruins were penalized for having too many men in the backfield.

Beddingfield, which turned the ball over three times, appeared to be in trouble late. SouthWest pounced on a fumble at the Bruins’ 18-yard line with 7:22 to go. The Cougars faced a third-and-goal from the 2-yard and were poised to score, but a crucial false start penalty moved SouthWest back. Bandy was stuffed for no gain on the next play, leading to Garbrandt attempting a 24-yard field goal. The snap was poor and destroyed the timing, leaving Garbrandt’s field goal to sail wide right. Beddingfield took over with 3:50 to go and drained the rest of the clock.

“They played us in a way they haven’t played us,” SouthWest Edgecombe head coach Jonathan Cobb said of the Bruins. “They did a great job of staying home.”

Cobb didn’t deny that a wake-up call was served for SouthWest.

“It’s got to be a wake-up call,” he said. “We’ve had success for six weeks now. But, success can breed complacency.”

The Cougars were heavily penalized in their own right, drawing 10 flags for 110 yards.

But in the end, the Bruins resembled the Cougars more than the Cougars resembled themselves.

“Football is football,” Jones said. “You have fumbles, interceptions. You have it all. But our defense came in excellent and we took everything bad, we put it to the side and got our minds focused. We just come ready to play, and we played with all we had left.”