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Posted: October 15, 2011 8:06 p.m.

It's time for that Eagle pride to reemerge

The last time Eastside football lost three games in a row, Jimmie Johnson had yet to win a Sprint Cup championship, my house was still worth more than I paid for it and an up-and-coming young senator from Illinois had everyone wondering if we were ready for our first black president. After Friday’s 21-3 loss to Stockbridge, that’s exactly where the Eagles find themselves. It’s a place no player in the program today has ever been. It’s certainly a place nobody around the program thought they’d be in anytime soon.

A third straight loss for the first time since 2005 goes beyond pride though. The Eagles postseason chances are now officially on life support. Three weeks ago, nobody would have ever imagined the Eagles would need to win their remaining two games just to make the playoffs. They were playing well and legitimately prepared to give Sandy Creek a run for the top spot in the region. After Friday’s loss, there’s no more talk of winning the region — no more talk of finishing second and hosting a playoff game. Playoffs are the last thing on Eastside’s mind right now and rightfully so.

It’s easy to forget Eastside has won 40 games since 2007. Over that span, the Eagles have gone from an upstart team to a regular in the discussion of perennial state title contenders. The past three weeks — two in particular, haven’t erased all of that. But they’ve certainly raised many questions.

The Sandy Creek loss was disappointing. While upset and frustrated, Eastside’s coaches could take it. Sandy Creek is the two-time defending state champion and the Eagles played well enough to win. But the feelings after the last two losses have turned from disappointment to disgust.

Even though Drew and Stockbridge are two vastly-improved teams — good teams in fact, Eastside has handled more talented teams. They are simply making too many uncharacteristic mistakes and for the first time really in five years, the Eagles face an identity crisis.

Eastside’s offensive woes have been well-documented this year. But the defense has always had its back. Now, what has been Eastside's identity and strength of this team, all of a sudden the defense has question marks surrounding it. Including the final play of the Sandy Creek game, the Eagles have given up four touchdowns on big plays and two passing touchdowns in which the opposing receiver was wide open. The biggest scoring plays before came in special teams on two kickoff returns for touchdowns. Over the past two weeks especially, Eastside’s seemingly brick wall has holes in it.

Head coach Rick Hurst didn’t mince words after Friday’s loss.

"Those guys who are selling out (every play) like Dante (Blackmon), Justin Bates, Paul Hadaway and those kind of guys that have been in this program and done everything we’ve asked them to do, we’re going to make sure those guys are going out like they should go out," Hurst said. "The rest of the guys (we put in) are going to step in there and play like those guys have."

Hurt’s message is clear. Eastside has playmakers. And while many of those playmakers are still making plays, they are also giving up big plays and he’s had enough.

Eastside doesn’t play this week and the bye couldn’t come at a better time. The Eagles have two weeks to prepare for their next game. One change possibly on the horizon may be at quarterback. With the game out of reach in the fourth quarter, Hurst called on backup Demario Terrell to finish the game and the sophomore showed he has a good arm on a few late passes. While he wouldn’t commit either way, Hurst knows his team needs a spark.

"We’re going to evaluate film and if our (starters) aren’t doing what we ask them to do and doing it hard, we’re going to make changes and go with the younger guys and the guys who are going to give us a chance in the future," he said. "We’re going to look at who gives us our best chance to win. If that’s what it takes (making the switch at quarterback), that’s what we’ll do."

Eastside still has an opportunity to turn things around. They have two games remaining and if they win them both, they’ll earn a return trip to the playoffs albeit as a fourth seed. But the Eagles are still a very talented team with weapons on offense and a defense capable of shutting anyone down. Should they get back on track, they can be a formidable opponent for any No. 1 seed.

With their backs against the wall and pride on the line, the Eagles can go one of two ways. They can fold up the tent and pack it in the rest of the way or they can decide that they’re willing to fight for each other fight back.

Adversity has a way of building character. Perhaps the leaders Hurst is looking for will emerge in the wake of the recent struggles. Whatever happens, the Eagles need to figure it out fast and get back to playing Eastside football.

"We’re going to try and win the rest of these ball games and go out with a little bit of pride," Hurst said.

Sounds like a good idea to me.

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