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Posted: September 1, 2011 5:13 p.m.

Collision course

Rivals Newton, Eastside face off for county bragging rights

Three years ago, Newton held the ball against Eastside the entire fourth quarter only to score the tying touchdown on fourth down with seconds remaining. A spirited overtime saw the Eagles hold on for the win after a critical stop on a two-point conversion. That epic matchup went down as the best game between the two rival schools to date. It was also the last time Eastside beat Newton.

The two teams renew that rivalry tonight at Sharp Stadium with the Rams looking to make it three straight over the Eagles. It's also a battle of unbeatens. Eastside won its opener 38-15 over Alcovy last week while Newton shutout Shiloh 21-0 on the road.

Both teams come into tonight's game riding defensive momentum and that very well could be the theme again. Eastside scored a defensive touchdown on a fumble and blocked two kicks that directly led to 14 points. Newton scored a touchdown on a bad snap against Shiloh and thoroughly dominated Rockdale's punt team in the scrimmage two weeks ago.

Something else the two teams share are greenhorns under center. Eastside's Cameron Boyd makes his second start and third of his career after a solid debut against Alcovy. Boyd threw a touchdown on Eastside's opening possession and found his rhythm midway through the game. Newton turns to Gmatreian Brown for his second start. Brown was solid against Shiloh, managing the offense and staying away from potential big play mistakes.

Speaking of big plays, Newton's JaVonte Williams had a 100-yard rushing game in the opener and took one 83 yards for a touchdown. Williams' speed is a big reason why he's the Rams best running back. He's also compact and strong and will be a handful to contain.

Eastside will counter with a defense that gave up one long drive and offensive touchdown against Alcovy. The defense may not have given up that much had it not been for a roughing the kicker penalty on the drive. Eastside was active but didn't have many opportunities to get at the quarterback as Alcovy ran the ball most of the night. That will be a different story tonight as the Rams will pass more and Brown isn't as elusive as Alcovy's quarterback was.

Williams wasn't the only back to top 100 yards last week. Eastside's Chavis Griggs is coming off a 105-yard effort and with Alex Smith sidelined with a broke arm, will be the main ball carrier. Jamondi Smith has been practicing this week and is expected to make his debut and the Eagles will go with a three-back set if he does. Nick Broadwater, also coming off a solid debut, will be in the mix as well for Eastside in the rushing game.

The strength of both teams at this point of the season is those defenses. In fact, the defenses are very similar. Newton's defensive line is led by Kingsley Ejike and has speed and size across it. Eastside's line features Sheldon Rankins and Shaquille Huff, one of the best tandems in the state. Both defensive lines cause havoc in the backfield and push teams toward the edge. That allows the linebackers and safeties to make tackles all over the field.

This game could very well be a defensive struggle. Two years ago when Alcovy won its lone county championship, the Tigers did it on defense and playing mistake free. Those games were ugly offensively and it would shock nobody to see a similar game tonight. The passing games for both teams are still trying to find a rhythm. Neither quarterback will feel very comfortable in the pocket so points could be a t a premium.

Traditionally the team with the best record over the first three games emerged as county champion. But Alcovy and Newton don't play each other again this year making the county championship a bit less prestigious. With Alcovy and Newton set to join the same region in 2012, this is the last year the three county teams won't face each other. Should Newton win tonight, the Rams would be the only team without a loss to county foes, but without facing Alcovy, wouldn't necessarily be undefeated. If Eastside wins, they would claim the county championship outright.

Even though Newton and Eastside are looking for a win tonight, neither program views this game as a must win in the grand scheme of things. Tonight's game is more about bragging rights. Newton has to be concerned with Newnan in two weeks to open Region 2-AAAAA play while Eastside starts its trek toward a Region 4-AAA title on the road next week at Locust Grove.

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