EAGLEVILLE — Eighth-ranked Eagleville didn’t have starting quarterback Ryan Jordan.
However, the Eagles did have running back Chris Hale and their suffocating defense.
Eagleville defeated Moore County 35-7 Friday night at Talon Field to clinch its second District 9-A championship in three years.
“We were trying obviously … we are so beat up,” said Moore County head coach Scott Smith. “We were playing kids with (injuries) and it’s not one of those things you complain or make excuses about, but they wanted to play, and I didn’t want to take away their last regular season game.
“There in the second half, it was important to get our injured kids out of the game and let some younger kids play. If you want to try to make something happen in the playoffs, you have to try to get the game over. We didn’t need to try to extend it by throwing the ball.”
While Moore County has this week off and will not know its postseason fate until Saturday morning, the Eagles (8-1, 5-0) can complete a perfect 9-A season with a win at Community this week.
“It just solidifies what we’ve been trying to do since spring practice, and that’s to win our district,” Eagleville coach Steve Carson said. “We’re excited to do that tonight. We’ve got one more regular-season game to play, and it will be a tough one at Community.”
Hale finished the game with 251 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns. He has 1,701 yards on 172 carries with 24 touchdowns — both lead all Rutherford County backs. Hale had 159 yards on just 14 carries in the first half.
“The O-line did great,” Hale said. “They were stacking the box and the line was still opening holes for me. Our receivers stayed on their blocks and our fullback had some good blocks.”
Hale and the Eagles’ performance on the ground — Eagleville finished with 293 rushing yards — helped sophomore A.J. Garza, who was making his first start at quarterback.
Garza, also a starting cornerback, was 2-of-6 passing for 53 yards. His 46-yard bomb to receiver Maison Vallance set up Hale’s 2-yard TD run to make it 14-7 with 7:34 left in the first half. A possession later, Hale broke free for a 55-yard TD run to give Eagleville a 21-7 lead, which stood up through halftime.
Moore County lost for the second game in a row and missed its opportunity repeat as 9-A champions. The Raiders gave up 34 or more points for the third time in five games — all were losses.
After a disappointing loss in the regular-season home finale Oct. 18, Moore County needed to bounce back on the road to finish above .500. The Eagleville defense hardly gave the Raiders a chance though.
Eagleville cornerback Weston Vallance opened the game with a 56-yard interception return on the fifth play of the night. It was one of only two passes thrown by Moore County senior quarterback Dillon Davis.
“I put us in a bad situation trying to throw the ball,” added Smith. “Dillon did what he was told to do. It was third down I believe and we were trying to make something happen by throwing the ball deep and they were playing for it. It was an important lesson.”
The Raiders managed to answer the score on their next series, driving 66 yards in eight plays. Davis scored on a 29-yard TD run to cap the drive. The first quarter ended with the two teams tied 7-all.
Garza then broke the game open to start the third quarter, returning the second-half kickoff 66 yards for a touchdown and 28-7 lead.
“As far as I can remember, we haven’t had a kickoff returned for a touchdown in several years,” Smith said. “Due to that fact, that’s one reason we usually kick it on the ground. The (coaching staff) decided to try a moon kick … kick it high into the air. As normal, we kicked it to their best player and he caught it on a bounce and returned it for a touchdown.
“We do work on our kicking game, but we really have a hard time executing that during the game.”
Hale broke off a 65-yard TD run with 4:08 left to cap the scoring.
Davis led Moore County (5-5, 3-3) with 57 yards on six carries. Teammate Christian Glascoe added 44 yards on five touches.
Moore County finished the game with 179 yards on 41 carries. The Raiders didn’t complete a pass in two attempts.
—BY TOM KREAGER, The Daily News Journal (MCN Editor Robert Holman contributed to this story)