ELIZABETH CITY — Explosive, big play offense, and opportunistic defense is quickly becoming the trademark of the undefeated Northeastern High School football team.
On Friday night in Elizabeth City, the Eagles [4-0, 2-0 Northeastern Coastal Conference] defeated their rivals from Edenton in John A. Holmes [2-2, 1-1 NCC] by a final score of 38-13, breaking open a tight contest with four touchdowns in the second half, while holding the Aces scoreless after the break.
The game had extra importance, as after this year’s realignment, the two teams are now both in the 2A/3A Northeastern Coastal Conference.
The victory moved Northeastern into a first place conference tie with Hertford County, and sets up a showdown with the Bears this Friday in the Eagles Nest.
The game started with an exchange of possessions before Edenton was set up on their own 28 yard line after a Northeastern punt. On the first down play, running back Quan Twine went off the right tackle, cut to the sideline, and went all the way for a 72 yard touchdown. Mark Perez kicked the extra point and the Aces led 7-0 at the 8:59 mark.
A penalty after the play forced Edenton to kick off from their own 25 yard line, so the Eagles expected to get favorable field position. It turned out better than that. E.J. Gatling took the kick at his own 30, and appeared to be boxed in at midfield. He escaped the pile, cut to the left sideline, and outran the last defenders for a 70 yard return touchdown. Quarterback Jalen Melson completed a conversion pass to Shamar Sutton, and Northeastern led 8-7.
That lead would not last long. Twine returned the Eagle kick to the Northeastern side of midfield. The senior would then bolt through the middle for 40 yards and a first and goal at the eight yard line. After Malachi White carried for four yards, a holding penalty set the Aces back. That was followed by a bad snap over quarterback Landen Hoggard’s head that he was able to fall on to keep possession, but the mistake moved the ball back to the 28. The trend continued when Kaevon Freshwater tackled Hoggard for a two yard loss on third down. Facing a fourth and goal from the 30 yard line, Hoggard avoided the rush and lofted a screen pass to Twine in the right flat. The senior had room, and streaked down the sideline to put Edenton back in the lead. The conversion rush failed, but the score was now 13-8 in favor of the Aces.
Again, the Eagles responded quickly. On the first play from scrimmage on their own 24 yard line, Melson connected with Sutton on a fly pattern. Catching the Aces in single coverage, the junior caught the perfectly thrown ball over the shoulder in full stride, and went the distance. The conversion failed, but Northeastern had regained the lead 14-13 with 5:36 left in the first quarter.
The score stayed the same the rest of the first half as both teams hurt themselves with mistakes and penalties. Edenton’s best chance came after Twine took an option pitch for 33 yards for a first down on the Northeastern 23 yard line. However, a mishandle on the next play lost five yards, and three running plays could not sustain the drive, and turned the ball back over on downs to the Eagles.
The Aces had a chance to keep the ball deep in Northeastern territory, but a pass interference. and two facemask penalties reversed the field position as the half came to an end.
“We just kept making mistakes, and you can’t do that against a good team like Northeastern,” said Edenton coach Paul Hoggard. “You have to do all the little things right, we didn’t do that, and we gave up too many big plays.”
The Eagles scored on their first three possessions of the second half. Melson rushed in a one yard keeper set up by two long completions to Sutton of 29, and 43 yards. After a missed field goal, the Eagles extended their lead to 26-13 on a seven play drive culminated by a 23 yard pass to Sutton, who took a short pass on the flank, made two quick cuts to evade tackles, and reached the end zone for his second touchdown.
Just a couple of minutes later, the Eagles scored again on a long pass play. This time Gatling took a short pass from Melson, made one tackler miss, and showed his pure speed, running down the right sideline for a 47 yard touchdown.
The score now 32-13, Eagle defensive end Freshwater closed out the scoring when he scooped up an Edenton fumble and rambled 77 yards for a defensive touchdown.
“We really prepared for their read option,” said Northeastern coach Antonio Moore, “the dive plays, and the option pitch, and I think that overall we played very well against a strong running team, especially in the second half. You don’t count on the big plays, but they come when the guys play free and with confidence in their abilities. It was a great team effort.”
Northeastern quarterback Jalen Melson was efficient and very productive. The junior completed 16-of-22 passes for 296 yards, three touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown. Shamar Sutton had nine receptions for 198 yards and two touchdowns, while Gatling had four catches for 55 yards, a touchdown reception, and a kickoff return for a score.
The Edenton offense was led by Quan Twine with 134 yards rushing on 15 attempts, and a pass reception for a touchdown. Malachi White had his 72 yard touchdown run, and 119 total yards on 10 carries.