Cougars snatch EPC title, smash Bruins 39-14

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There will be no sharing and no co-championship for the SouthWest Edgecombe High varsity football team in 2018.

The Cougars have the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference championship all to themselves.

That much, in physical fashion, was established Thursday night inside Bruins Stadium as the Cougars, facing off with Beddingfield for the outright conference championship, asserted its dominance up front and separated via takeaways in the second half en route to a 39-14 victory.

SouthWest Edgecombe, which visits archrival Tarboro next week in a rescheduled game, improved to 9-1 and walked away unbeaten in five EPC clashes. Beddingfield, denied a chance to seize the first outright league title in school history, fell to 8-2 and will not participate in the extra regular-season week of Nov. 9. Instead, Beddingfield, which was observing Senior Night activities, will take its 8-2 record and second-place finish in the conference into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A postseason. SouthWest will represent the league in the 2-AA ranks.

It was revenge for SouthWest, which was forced to share the EPC title with the Bruins a season ago after conceding a 10-7 decision in Pinetops. That ultimately forced the Cougars into a lower seed in the 2-A playoffs and a second-round exit as the No. 6 seed.

Now, SouthWest stands to enter the 2018 postseason in better shape.

“Last year, we felt like they had a great defensive gameplan and just shut us down,” SouthWest Edgecombe head coach Jonathan Cobb said. “The thing for us all week was being physical with blocking and tackling. At the end of the day, I felt like it was two good football teams. We ran drills all week, and our kids did it. They came out here and they were excited to play, and I thought we blocked very well on offense and I thought we did tackle very well on defense.”

Led by senior Jareil Collins, particularly in the first half, SouthWest gouged Beddingfield’s typically stout run defense. In running up 424 yards on the ground, Collins provided 228 of that total on 13 carries, scoring on a 12-yard run just over three minutes into play.

The Cougars’ offensive line sealed off the Bruins defense on the edge with the running of Collins, as well as toss plays from sophomore Tayshaun Pittman. Pittman took a second-quarter toss play on fourth down and scampered 22 yards.

The PAT missed, but SouthWest took a 13-0 advantage.

“Teams lately have tried to take away our interior,” Cobb said. “This is just a group of guys this year, we’ve got enough talent to attack anywhere on the field. We’ll take what they are giving, and that’s what they were giving.”

SouthWest has experimented more with the passing game this season, but only completed one pass against the Bruins. However, it was a big one, with senior quarterback Jayden Lewis dropping back in the final minute of the half and finding junior wideout Keishon Porter down the sideline on a 37-yard TD. Porter caught it over Beddingfield junior corner Travon Newsome, and an option pitch to Collins on the 2-point conversion sent the Cougars into halftime up 21-0.

Beddingfield came out in the third quarter with its best drive of the game, finishing it with an 8-yard burst from junior Jalil Hutcherson. That made it 21-7, and the Bruins owned possession in the fourth quarter with a chance to slice the deficit further.

But Beddingfield was taken out of contention by turnovers on three straight possessions. Junior Cortezz Jones’ interception led to a 1-yard plunge from Pittman, and a fumble recovery set up the first of two long touchdown runs by senior Darntrell Council. Council rumbled up the middle on TD runs of 43 and 49 yards, sandwiched by a 90-yard kickoff return by Beddingfield senior Zack Adams. 

Council had 134 yards on 16 carries.

“We got a foot put in our butt,” second-year Beddingfield head coach James Ward said. “They kicked our butt from start to finish, and we responded a little bit, but we backed back off. They hit us in the mouth. They did what they were supposed to do.”

During the pregame senior ceremony, each Beddingfield player had a “favorite sports memory” announced over the public address system.  Looking into a rosy future, each said that it was defeating the Cougars for the EPC championship on Thursday night.

That didn’t go unnoticed by SouthWest’s Council.

“Motivation to us,” Council said. “It just made us play harder, I guess.”

SouthWest’s defense held Beddingfield to 178 total yards. Junior Michael Hussey added a fourth-quarter interception for the Cougars.