The Newton County football championship will be decided tonight at Sharp Stadium. Newton and Eastside face off in a matchup of two teams riding the emotion of big wins last week versus tough competition.
Eastside knocked off a resilient Alcovy squad that looks much improved over last year's team while the Rams rode the legs of sophomore Akeem Hunt to a 22-15 win over McIntosh on Saturday.
The running game and team defense has been the bread and butter for both teams so far.
Eastside will be without two of its primary running backs as Rashad Hill (hamstring) and Greg Griffieth (calf) are not expected to dress. That means the three-headed monster compromised of Broderick Alexander, Git Aiken and Tony Atwater will carry the rushing load for the Eagles. The Eagles will also be without kicker Yarnick Tinker who was ejected from last week's game. Eastside coach Rick Hurst said his kicker will serve a one game suspension for the ejection.
"With our personnel changes, we may have to come out and throw the ball a little more than we have had to in the first couple of games," Hurst said.
Newton will turn to Quinton Pooler, Fred Smith and the speedy Hunt to carry the ball out of the backfield. The combination of Pooler's power, Smith's craftiness and Hunt's speed is something Hurst is not overlooking.
"Our defense will have to stop their running game," he said. "I thought they did a very good job of getting several different backs involved last week. We will have to play sound fundamental football to stop their version of the Wing-T."
The Rams will need to build off of Saturday's win, especially on defense. While the Rams gave up just two touchdowns, McIntosh quarterback Cam Porter found holes in the Ram secondary and was able to move his team effectively through the air.
"We are extremely worried about Newton's speed," Hurst said. "They seem to be very athletic on defense, so our offensive line will have to open some holes for our backs to run. We will look to establish the run as always."
The Eagles hold the edge in the passing game as quarterback Justin Wray has been solid to begin the year. In both Eagle wins, Wray has started the game well and led his team to opening drive scores.
The Rams made the switch to Demetrius McCray last week and Newton's passing game looked much better than it did in week one.
"He's been our quarterback before and there is a comfort level with him (McCray)," Newton coach Nick Collins said. "I think that's what the difference is. There is just that comfort level."
Tonight's game will conclude the county rivalry games and both teams will get down to business in region play. A Newton win means all three schools come away with a county win apiece. An Eastside win will give the Eagles bragging rights for 350 more days.
"I look for a big crowd to support both schools tonight as this game will decide the county championship for 2008," Hurst said. "It ought to be a fun one to watch. I know our guys are ready to play."