DUBLIN — Maybe West Bladen should play Monday night football more often.
The Knights, playing their first game under Russell Dove, snapped a 19-game losing streak with a commanding 34-12 home victory over South Robeson, ending a tumultuous period of frustration dating back two seasons and multiple coaching staffs.
“We beat a team that I felt we could beat and it feels good to get the monkey off our back,” said Dove, a former assistant who replaced Joe Salas as head coach in January. “We’ve only had one scrimmage this year and haven’t had a live game in over 20 days and it showed a little bit early, but the defense showed up. What more could you ask.”
Roles were reversed for Stephen Roberson’s Mustangs who ended their own 17-game skid in last year’s Week 2 battle with West Bladen. Ironically, West Bladen’s last victory prior to Monday came against South Robeson in Rowland, a 20-15 decision on Aug. 25, 2011.
The Mustangs went 0-11 that season.
“We had bad plays all over the field tonight,” said Roberson after his team managed a single touchdown drive. “When we had the chance to make plays we didn’t.”
West Bladen’s pair of momentum-changing plays that both went for touchdowns deflated South Robeson’s chances at winning its first opener in seven years. Trailing 14-12 with 90 seconds left in the second quarter, the Mustangs were fooled on a well-executed halfback pass that went the distance for the Knights.
Trevor Lesane took a sweep right, stuck his cleats into the ground and fired a pass to a wide open Stephon McDonald who raced 66 yards for a touchdown. Dove reached into his bag of tricks for what would be one of the daggers during West Bladen’s unanswered 28-point run to end the contest.
“Now was the time to call that (play) and we had worked on it all week,” Dove said. “Everybody else was saying run a dive, but I said we had to take a chance. The safeties were rolling up on the sweep, so that’s what we did.”
South Robeson had some fireworks, but all the pyrotechnics came in the opening quarter.
After the Knights drove 86 yards in five plays on the game’s opening possession to take a 6-0 lead, Juan Ellerbe’s 83-yard return for a score on the ensuing kickoff seemed to offset West Bladen’s early momentum.
With the game tied at 6, the Mustangs scored on their third snap from a scrimmage after recovering a fumble near midfield off when Trevor Bethea cut back between two defenders on a 10-yard touchdown run. From that moment, South Robeson’s offense struggled with snaps, penalties and turned it over twice trying to get back into the game after intermission.
The decisive blow came in the third quarter when Bethea muscled his way into a pile at the Knights’ 30-yard line. West Bladen lineman Parker Allen came away with the football after an apparent strip and rumbled 72 yards for the defensive touchdown.
The Mustangs came off the field noticeably dejected after their second possession of the second half ended like the first — on a mistake. South Robeson picked off a pass and recovered a fumble later in the frame but couldn’t cash in.
“We dropped a pass in the end zone, dropped another one down field and had some fumbles,” Roberson said. “I thought they were going to blow it dead on that one in the third quarter, but that’s how it goes. Every time we made something happen defensively, we messed it up on the other side and didn’t take advantage.”
Reach staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.
West Bladen 34, South Robeson 12
South Robeson 12 0 0 0 — 12
West Bladen 6 14 8 6 — 34
WB — Malcolm Vaught 3 run (kick failed)
SR — Juan Ellerbe 83 kickoff return (run failed)
SR — Trevor Bethea 10 run (run failed)
WB — Vaught 20 run (Trevor Lesane run)
WB — Stephon McDonald 66 pass from Lesane (run failed)
WB — Parker Allen 72 fumble return (Daquan Lennon run)
WB — Lennon 21 run (run failed)
Rushing: SR — Bethea 9-42, Chavis 14-32, Ellerbe 6-28. WB — Lennon 7-142, McDowell 15-47, Vaught 6-34.
Passing: SR — Chavis 4-14-1-65. WB — Lewis 0-1-1-0; Lesane 1-1-0-66.
Receiving: SR — Bethea 1-25, Galbreath 1-24, Ellerbe 1-12, Lindsey 1-2. WB — McDonald 1-66.