November 6, 2010 10:34:00 PM
MABEN -- The East Webster High School football team took its first step toward a state championship Friday night in a 35-20 win against Bruce.
The Wolverines (12-0) continued their dominance on the ground, rushing for 327 yards on 41 carries in their Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 2A playoff opener.
But it was the East Webster defense that controlled much of the game, holding Bruce scoreless through three quarters.
Senior defensive end Tyler Gregg spearheaded the attack with five tackles for a loss and a sack, strengthening a defense that became more complete when he returned from a concussion on Oct. 1.
Gregg, who is being recruited by Holmes Community College, was sidelined for three weeks.
"I told my staff tonight before we came out, four weeks ago if you lined up and ran straight at us it''d bother me," East Webster coach Jimmy Carden said. "But now, tonight, I felt pretty comfortable if somebody wanted to do that because we''ve got Tyler and Xavier Moye back. Those guys strengthened us up in there."
Bruce running back Zay Armstrong, who entered the game with four straight 100-yard performances, was held to 29 yards on 15 carries.
Bruce quarterback Davis Brown was 8 of 15 for 134 yards and two rushing touchdowns, but he completed just one pass in the first half.
The Trojans were held to less than 50 yards of offense in the first half.
Gregg said Carden''s decision to replace most of the starters in the fourth quarter, which ultimately led to Bruce''s limited offensive success, won''t affect how the team rates the performance.
"We came in here knowing they were a good second-half team," Gregg said. "We came out and did what we could do. ... There''s always more to achieve, but we believe we did a good job."
Carden lauded Gregg''s performance in the final third of the regular season. The 6-foot-3 senior has led the nine seniors who start for East Webster''s defense.
"Tyler''s come a long way," Carden said. "He missed three ballgames and has come back with a vengeance. It''s almost like he''s playing two games in one trying to make up for it. He''s elevated his game at the right time."
East Webster scored on its first drive, using nine plays to take a 6-0 lead. Fullback Timakis Bell scored the first of his two touchdowns to cap the drive, plunging in from 13 yards out.
Bruce, despite collecting a pair of East Webster turnovers, struggled to move the ball in the first half. The Trojans failed to convert a fake punt at the start of the second quarter and Brown was intercepted on a trick play.
Brown''s interception was followed by a 50-yard touchdown by Demetrius O''Briant, who finished with a game-high 160 yards on 16 carries. O''Briant''s score gave the Wolverines a 21-0 halftime lead.
O''Briant added a 30-yard score and backup Josh Gladney had a 45-yard run in the third quarter.
"Ball control is huge in the playoffs," Carden said. "If you do that, take care of the ball, and play good defense, you''ve got a good chance to go far."
Bruce finally caught traction in the fourth quarter when East Webster pulled most of its starters in anticipation of next week''s home playoff game against Kennedy, which handled Coahoma Agricultural 39-12 Friday.
Carden bemoaned the Wolverines'' 10 penalties, nine of which came when he spelled his starters. However, he isn''t concerned with his team''s ability to play clean football down the stretch.
"You really don''t know what''s gonna happen until you get there," Carden said. "These guys have played some pretty pressure-packed ballgames. We played the playoff game with Ackerman last year, and it''s basically these same guys who fought to the end. I was proud of them, and I think when it gets tight again this year they''ll play hard again."