PINETOPS — SouthWest Edgecombe’s fast start to Friday’s Class 2-A third round playoffs game was not enough to keep visiting Northeastern down as the Cougars lost, 35-20.

The second-seeded Cougars drove 44 yards to score a touchdown on their opening drive, then forced and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Two plays later, SWE found the end zone again to take a quick 12-0 lead just 4 minutes, 6 seconds into the game.

The Cougars (12-2) wouldn’t score again until the fourth quarter. And during the streak of empty drives, the No. 3 Eagles poured in one touchdown after another behind a unique offense that gave the SWE defense problems.

The Eagles (11-3) gained 311 rushing yards and saw three different players rush for touchdowns. Quarterback Holden Hodge gave the offense a running attack that he used to gain 109 yards.

During other drives, the Eagles would slot Hodge to receiver with Deandre Proctor under center and 6-foot-1, 270-pound fullback Quasi Thomas pounded away at the SWE line.

Northeastern took the lead back at 14-12 with two consecutive touchdown drives in the first half, then scored a touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter to push the lead to 21-12.

“We played hard,” said Cougars receiver Keishon Porter. “But it was just one of those games I guess.”

The Cougars, who entered the game with two 1,000-yard rushers, lost half of that production when leading-rusher Demari Mabry left the game in the first half with an injury. He finished with six yards on two carries. Cortezz Jones, meanwhile, was held to 13 yards on nine carries.

In all, SWE rushed for just 117 yards.

The Cougars were also without starting quarterback Ray Wooten, who was unavailable for the game. Backup QB Jackson Lewis stepped in and threw a touchdown to Keishon Porter. Porter, a 6-5 receiver, also played some quarterback for SWE.

Porter was effective running the ball as he gained a team-high 69 yards and added a touchdown in the fourth quarter to bring SWE within 28-20 with 8:44 to play. SWE couldn’t complete the comeback as it lost a fumble, then had turnovers via interceptions on back-to-back drives to end the game.

“When we lost Ray I had to step up,” Porter said of playing quarterback. “Normally when I pass the ball I will be connecting with players, but this game I just had a rough time. Mostly we ran option plays and that worked out good for us.”

Eagles defensive back Kentrell Williams iced the game with two interceptions, including taking one back 40 yards for a touchdown to push the lead to 35-20.

“In tough games we know we have to dig down and find the dog in us to finish the game,” Williams said. “It was a whole team effort. And the guys up front did great. And at the end, I saw the ball in the air and had to go get it. Our coaches told us to back up five yards so we knew they were coming through the air and I just had to step up and try to end the game.”

Northeastern’s championship hopes remain alive as it will travel to top-seeded Clinton next week in the regional round. The Eagles were the 2-A runners-up last season.

Scoring plays

First quarter

SWE — Kaleb Joyner 13 run (kick failed), 8:47

SWE — Keishon Porter 22 pass from Jackson Lewis (run failed), 7:54

NE — Holden Hodge 15 run (Quasi Thomas run), 4:36

Second quarter

NE — Deandre Proctor 9 run (run failed), 7:59

Third quarter

NE — Juan Riddick 37 run (Caleb Brickhouse kick), 7:36

Fourth quarter

NE — Thomas 28 fumble return (Brickhouse kick), 11:52

SWE — Porter 2 run (Cortezz Jones run), 8:44

NE — Kentrell Williams 40 interception return (Brickhouse kick), 3:29