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Critical points
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For the Eastside, Newton and Alcovy football teams a lot is at stake this evening, as each compete in region matchups.

Tonight Eastside (4-1 overall, 0-1 Region 8-AAAA, Sub-region B) will visit Cedar Shoals (5-0, 1-0), the top-ranked team in region, in what should be a close fought battle between two well-coached teams.

"It's going to be tough up there," said Eastside head coach Rick Hurst. "It's a tough environment, and they're going to try and intimidate our kids. But as long as we don't get intimidated by them and try to hit them in the mouth, then we'll be right in the ball game."

But the Eagles will attempt to do something they have failed to do in five previous games against Cedar Shoals: win. During that stretch, Eastside has been outscored 182-47 by the Jaguars.

"I think it plays into their mind a little bit because I remind them," said Hurst regarding their history. "I told them last week that growing up I was never one to be told you've never done something. At some point in time we've got to be (in) that same mode."

Overall, the Eagles are averaging 23.2 points per game compared to 23.8 by the Jaguars. Defensively, Eastside (9.8) has the upper hand, allowing four points per game fewer than Cedar Shoals (13.8).

"(Cedar Shoals) is balanced and has three or four good running backs," said Hurst. "They run out of the spread, so it's going to be a lot like facing us."

Both teams are coming off a bye week, giving them an extra seven days to rest at a critical time of the season.

 "I think it was a good thing," said Hurst. "We had some time to work on our fundamentals. I think it gave our kids a chance to get healthy because we were a little banged up."

Eastside is coming off a disappointing loss to Salem, 24-17. Although it disrupted their unblemished record of four straight wins, it also lit a fire underneath the Eagles, and they've had plenty of time to think about it.

"I think their feelings were hurt," said Hurst, "but they want to get back to that form of winning because it feels good."

Meanwhile, the Jaguars are coming off a big win against Heritage, 27-24.

For the Eagles to win, they must be able to stop the big play, and that begins with running back Hykeem Hall. Against the Patriots, Hall had a game-high 125 yards on just five carries, averaging 25 yards per attempt, including one touchdown.

In addition, the Eagles must limit their amount of turnovers against the Jaguars.

"We can't do that against this team," said Hurst. "If we have no turnovers (in) this game it will give us a good chance of winning."

With a victory, both teams have much to gain from the matchup.

"With a win it puts us in a position that we can still have a chance for first or second seed in the sub-region," reasoned Hurst. "With a loss it takes us out of first or second. It's huge as far as how the region pans out. There's a lot on the line, but it doesn't end our season if we don't win."

Turning to Newton (0-5 overall, 0-2 Region 2-AAAAA), the Rams are looking for not only their first win of the season but also their first region victory of the season.

Although they have struggled in Nick Collins' first year as head coach, the Rams have several positives regarding their matchup tonight against Lithonia (0-5, 0-2) at Homer Sharp Stadium.

And according to Collins, the Rams have enjoyed several good practices throughout the week.

"We had some really good days," said Collins. "We increased the tempo, and outside of a few things it's been going really, really good - fast-paced and energetic."

Not only are their records the same, with the edge going to Newton based on the region standings, but the Bulldogs (2.6) are averaging nearly three points per game fewer than the Rams (5.4). Defensively, Lithonia has allowed 188 points this season - 49 more than Newton.

However, those figures do not necessarily concern Collins regarding the matchup.

"(Lithonia) is athletic," said Collins, "and they are running the wing-T. But their problem again is like us: Every time they have two good things happen they turn around and have several bad things happen."

In addition, the Rams have won the past three games against Lithonia.

Perhaps the turning point for not only Collins but his team and the community will start tonight. In fact, a win tonight could be the beginning of the next best thing for Newton's football program.

"I don't know," said Collins. "These guys are hard to read, and we've tried everything else. Let's just try a win and see if that will get it going."

Based on his homework, Collins said that the keys to a victory are not allowing the big play and controlling the football.

"We really feel like if (we) can run the football and throw it effectively then we'll have a chance," said Collins. "We need to keep the defense off the field and hopefully we'll be able to score some points."

Meanwhile, second-year Alcovy continues to make history concerning its sharp turnaround from one year ago.

"The thing about coaching a new program is (that) every day something good happens," said Alcovy head coach Kirk Hoffmann last week. "You battle a lot of adversity, but everything is anew. We've got a long ways to go to be a solid football team, but we're getting there one step at a time."

Last year the Tigers were 0-10, but entering today they are tied for first place in Region 8-AAAA, Sub-region B.

"Well, I don't know if it's just me or the community and everybody else," said Hoffmann. "The biggest thing is the parents are realistic; they know it's going to take a while and it's going to take some time. But right now we're just doing the right things."

But the Tigers (2-3, 1-0) will have their hands full tonight at Salem (4-1, 1-0).

Overall, both teams are almost even in terms of scoring offense. Alcovy is averaging 17.2 points per game compared to Salem's 20.2. Defensively, it's a different story. The Seminoles are allowing 9.4 points fewer than the Tigers.

"(Ryan) Ledford is throwing the ball well," said Hoffmann. "Cody Edwards has come on, and that's freed up (Eric) Strozier a little bit. So, it's just everybody's kind (of) chipping away."