The Eastern Guilford Wildcats hosted the Eastern Alamance Eagles Friday night in a game that featured highlight-reel hits, ground and pound efforts, and tense moments as the Wildcats fought to remain undefeated and become Mid-State 3A regular season champions.
The Wildcats started out slow and trailed 5-0 in the opening quarter before scoring with a minute remaining in the first. It was Bryant Barr’s leadership and arm that eventually led the Wildcats to a 28-19 victory.
The Eagles opened the game all business. They gained yardage with a strong, grinding running game, led by Amier Alston. Alston ran on the first five plays and several more times throughout the contest.
Eastern Guilford’s first possession began on their nine yard line. They punted from the 10, just four plays later. Their second possession started from the four and resulted in a safety.
The Eagles advanced to field goal range with 1:52 remaining. Eliza Krans, kicked a 25-yard field goal to put her – yes, her – team ahead by five.
At that point, the home crowd had gotten anxious, and the packed Tommy Grayson Field was eerily quiet. Senior night had preceded the game, and Eastern Guilford coach Doug Robertson began to wonder if his team was almost, too pumped up.
“We had a couple of bad series’ to start,” Eastern Guilford coach Doug Robertson said. “I didn’t know if it was a hangover from last week, or maybe its senior night, an emotional night. I thought we were too keyed up, maybe.”
The fans would soon have reason to cheer. Bryant Barr received the kickoff following the Eagles’ field goal and returned it across the 50 to the Wildcat 42 yard line. Dominique Graves rushed 20 yards on the first play of the drive to get the ball into Eagle territory for the first time of the night, and Zion Walker followed with a 14-yard scamper to the 28. A targeting penalty was called on Eastern Alamance that set up the ‘cats with first-and-ten from the Eagles’ 13. Bryant Barr called his own number and rushed for Eastern Guilford’s first score.
“On the rushing touchdown, my offensive line . . . this season has done so much for us. I don’t know where we would be without them,” Barr said. “It’s fun, we work hard and have fun together every day, so there’s not too much pressure on either one of us,” he added of running a dual-threat system with junior Dominique Graves.
Bryant Barr wasn’t finished and added another six points to the Wildcats’ total when he hooked up with Nic Cheely on the near sideline. Cheely found the end zone on the first drive of the second quarter.
Eastern Guilford’s defense stepped up their play in the second quarter and forced the Eagles to punt on two of three possessions, a much different-looking scenario than the Eagle-dominated first quarter.
Eastern Guilford’s defensive stands got the ball back to the offense and Bryant Barr. The ‘cats scored again in the second, with 4:19 remaining, after starting on their own 37 yard line. Zion Walker rushed, and Barr passed for 21 to fellow senior James Artis. Walker rushed twice more, and the score was 22-5 in favor of the home team. The Wildcats had responded, and the fans at Grayson Field were now heavily involved.
Eastern Alamance didn’t back down. They answered the Wildcat score with their own four-minute, 10-play, 36-yard scoring drive, when quarterback Hayden Mann pushed through the Wildcats’ defensive line to bring his Eagles within 11 right before the half.
Eastern Alamances’ quarterback Hayden Mann threw an early and third quarter interceptions. Eastern Guilford benefited the most on the turnover caused when 6’6″ Spencer Clapp knocked the ball out of Mann’s arms on the first play of an Eagle 3rd quarter drive. Eastern Guilford recovered Mann’s cough-up.
Following the fumble, Eastern Guilford started on the 32 yard line, but an Eastern Alamance personal foul for targeting moved them to the 17, where it only took two runs by Barr to get them to the 11. From there, Barr found Isaiah Finnerty who darted down the near sideline and dove for the pylon to score.
“I ran a hitch-route and caught the ball,” Finnerty said. “I spun out, saw the pylon and had to dive for it.”
The Wildcats led 29-11, with 5:04 remaining in the 3rd. They were in the driver’s seat.
Their undefeated record on the line, the Wildcats held off a grinding, tough Eastern Alamance team, who weren’t going to concede the Mid-State 3-A regular season title without a fight.
The fourth quarter featured lots of yellow laundry, as both teams were penalized often, and the only score was from the visiting Eagles with 11:13 remaining in regulation when Amier Alston rushed two yards to finalize an 80-yard drive.
The Eagles attempt at a comeback featured drives starting at their 20, and their 2. They drove down-field both times, but managed only one score.
“At the end of the game, their guys made plays,” Eastern Guilford coach Doug Robertson said. “Their quarterback made some throws, they were running the ball, keeping our defense off-balance. We had a hard time stopping them.”
The Wildcat seniors put on a show for the home fans, featuring brutal hits from Nafi Tucker, two of the hardest of the season. Spencer Clapp forced and recovered a second-half fumble and Bryant Barr accounted for 122 yards and three touchdowns. James Artis’ performance, a resilient one, by a young man whose heart and determination to play through a beating, was evident as he held his side in his postgame interview. James Artis played his heart out and performed through a beating; however, he was happy with the win after the game.
“I’ve been expecting (to win) since me and the boys got together in middle school and it’s carried on to now,” Artis said, wincing. “We’ve been with Coach Rob since freshman year and now we’re seniors with him. It feels really good to be the regular season Mid-State 3-A champions.”
“Nafi is the hardest hitter on our team,” Bryant Barr said of Tucker. “He plays every snap on offense, but if you give him the chance to tackle someone, or hit somebody, that’s what he loves to do.”
The Eastern Guilford Wildcats are now 10-0, and 7-0 in the conference, regular season Mid-State 3-A conference champions.
The Wildcats have one more game before they begin their playoff run Friday night at Rockingham County. If they pull out a victory, they will finish the year undefeated, and will be the only team in Guilford County who will be able to say that with the Dudley loss against Page Friday night.
EA: Eliza Krans 25 yard FG
EG: Bryant Barr 13 run (Camron Smith kick)
EG: Nic Cheely 17 pass from Barr (Smith kick)
EG: Zion Walker 2 run (Walker run)
EA: Hayden Mann 1 run (kick failed)
EG: Isaiah Finnerty 11 pass from Barr (Smith kick)
EA: Amier Alston 2 run (Krans kick)
EASTERN GUILFORD STATS:
Bryant Barr: (5-6) 61yds 2TD, INT – 8 rush 61yds
Zion Walker: 12 rush 72yds, TD
James Artis: 3 rec 33yds
Isaiah Finnerty: 2 rec 38yds, TD
Nic Cheely: 1 rec 11yds, TD