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Posted: October 31, 2013 9:00 p.m.

Eagles search for 'defining moment'

Anthony Banks/

The Eastside Eagles can clinch a playoff berth Friday night with a win at home over the Stephens County Indians. The Eagles are 2-5 all-time against the Indians, falling on the road 23-7 last season.

The Eastside Eagles have a chance to lock up their fourth playoff appearance in three years tonight as the Eagles host visiting Stephens County in region play at Sharp Stadium at 7:30 p.m.

Eastside stands just a game ahead of the visiting Indians for the fourth playoff spot in Region 8-AAAA.

Despite falling to the Indians 23-7 on the road a year ago, Eastside coach Rick Hurst said his program has shown the intensity needed at practice this week to secure a playoff berth.

"Practice has been good this week," Hurst said. "Tuesday was a physical practice day for us and I thought the kids responded well. We saw some good things out of the players and our intensity was good. When you’re talking about the playoffs two weeks before they begin, things kind of get amped up.

"Our players and coaching staff have been around for a lot of playoff games and they know what it takes to make it in," he said. "They know what it takes to advance. They’re showing that kind of intensity this week."

Stephens County has reached the playoffs the last three seasons and captured three consecutive Region 8-AAA titles from 2005-2007.

Hurst and his program recognizes the Indians’ deep football history, but said that this type of game can help the Eagles continue to make their own mark on Georgia’s high school football scene.

"Stephens is steeped in a lot of tradition," Hurst said. "We’re still young and these are the kind of games that put you into that elite category as a school and as a program. That’s what we what to do and where we want to be.

"I told the kids that it’s not do or die," he said, "but we would have to depend on someone else to help our playoff situation. You don’t want that to happen. We want to lock it up and go into the last week with a lot of pressure off of our shoulders."

The Indians will feature a powerful run game led by offensive lineman Ben Cleveland. Cleveland, a sophomore, has garnered offers from Georgia, Clemson, Florida, South Carolina and Texas.

"They are primarily a run-first team," Hurst said. "They rely on the run, but they’ve had some injuries. They’ve had to battle through injuries this season just like we have. We have to focus on their offensive line, primarily their left tackle (Cleveland). He’s their lead dog and they like to run behind him.

"They have a couple of running backs that are strong with the ball," he said. "They don’t put the ball on the ground that often. We have to play very well up front defensively and try to create some situations where they have to bounce to the outside. Then, we can let our speed make plays. We have to put them in situations that they don’t like to be in and get them behind in the chains and make them throw the ball."

With all of the pressure on the Eagles this week, Hurst believes that his senior class can make its mark with a win over the Indians.

"I asked our seniors what their defining moment was going to be," Hurst said. "Our senior class has had the opportunity to make the playoffs two of their three seasons thus far. If they can make it three out of four years, that says a lot about them and their class and their legacy. Their preparation has been fine and I think it’s going to continue to be good this week."


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