It wasn’t pretty early — but after a rough start, the Chalmette Owls looked like District 8-5A contenders the rest of the way Friday night against East Jefferson.

Brandon Tillman rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns, Joshua Taylor added two more rushing touchdowns and the Owls defeated their district rivals 49-20 to move above .500 overall.

The Owls (4-3, 2-2) had a bit of a messy start, fumbling on their first possession and fumbling again in the first quarter to help set up an easy East Jefferson touchdown.

It was all Owls after that point, however — especially after Martez Whidby returned the opening second half kickoff 84 yards for a score to set the tone in the second half.

“East Jefferson is a very well-coached team,” said Owls coach Jason Tucker, a ‘93 Chalmette graduate.

“Anytime you go play those guys, they’re going to fight you all the way to the end. It was disappointing that we left some points on the field in the first half with a few turnovers, but I thought our guys played hard the whole way. Give East Jefferson credit, though. They never quit or stopped fighting.”

East Jefferson (2-5, 2-2) managed to move the ball well at times and did get a 139-yard rushing effort from quarterback Cornelius Beasley. But three turnovers — including a late interception return for a touchdown — ultimately doomed their chances.

“I feel there were too many moments that we didn’t have enough juice,” East Jefferson coach Frank Aielo said. “We were playing at a different speed at times, and it showed. There were moments in the game that showed that when we execute, we’re not that bad a football team, but it can’t be hit-and-miss. It has to be all the time.”

Emotions ran somewhat high after the game was over as a brief shoving match occurred between the two rivals. It was quickly diffused by coaches on both sides. Tucker downplayed the exchange.

“I wouldn’t call it a scuffle or anything,” he said. “No one threw any punches or anything; nobody hurt anyone or anything. It was just a little jarring if anything; definitely not a scuffle. It’s an emotional game. Emotions fly high. You definitely have to move on from that and try to avoid that. But it definitely wasn’t a scuffle.”

Although Taylor attempted only two passes on the evening, he completed both of them for 34 yards — including a thrilling 31-yarder to Charles Bailey that bounced off of his intended receiver’s hands and into Bailey’s.

That play helped set up Taylor’s 4-yard touchdown run just 1:47 before halftime to give the Owls a 21-6 halftime lead.

Next up for East Jefferson is district-leading John Ehret. Chalmette takes on winless Higgins.