That's exactly what Eastside (3-0) is after Friday night's 24-9 victory over Madison County (2-1) at Homer Sharp Stadium.
"(Madison County) has some great players and is a good football team," said Eastside head coach Rick Hurst. "But I told our kids before the game if you want to be the best you've got to beat the best. (Madison County) has been a playoff contender for two years, and I believe right now we've sent a message that we can play with the best in Region 8-AAAA."
The last time the Eagles began the season 3-0 was five years ago; however, the 2002 squad lost six of their final seven games. Only time will tell what the future holds for this 2007 bunch, but for now the present has been splendid.
After a slow, scoreless first quarter - one that resulted in 23 plays for just 48 combined net yards between both teams - the Red Raiders struck first. At the top of the second period, Madison quarterback Spencer Baird (21 of 29 passing for 211 yards) scampered up the middle for a 14-yard touchdown, scoring the first points Eastside has allowed this season.
After a failed two-point conversion attempt, the Red Raiders led, 6-0, with 10 minutes and 53 seconds remaining until halftime.
"We didn't panic," said Hurst. "We made some plays and I'm just so proud of our kids right now."
What the Eagles did was make adjustments, a credit to not only Hurst but his entire coaching staff.
Based on exceptional defense by both teams, they traded possessions until Eastside's Andrico Bailey (five catches for 52 yards) caught back-to-back receptions from Justin Wray (11 of 21 passing for 127 yards and one touchdown) to set up a 26-yard field goal by Yanrick Tinker (six points), making it 6-3 at the 2:41 mark.
Madison threatened to score again before entering the break, and had it not been for consecutive sacks applied by Eastside's Aaron Terrell and Maurice Gaither it more than likely would have happened.
After a 13-yard pass by Baird to receiver Anthony Caudell (two catches for 15 yards), the Red Raiders were on Eastside's five-yard line with 36 seconds to go. Once the junior quarterback was sacked by Terrell for a loss of five yards, Gaither greeted Baird with a big time hit for negative 10.
With 12 ticks remaining until halftime, Eastside's Rashad Hill (six carries for 20 yards and one touchdown) and Larenzo Echols (nine carries for 25 yards and one touchdown) broke up one final pass in the end zone, keeping it 6-3.
But once the halftime performances ended and the third quarter started, Madison's Stacy Mack exploded for a 56-yard kickoff return. Seven straight rushes later, followed by a 30-yard field goal by Jack Orr (four points), had the Red Raiders leading, 9-3.
The Eagles countered with their most impressive drive of the season, which resulted in 15 plays and ended with an Echols two-yard touchdown run. After the extra point, Eastside had its first lead of the game, 10-9, at the 2:19 clip.
And as the contest continued, the Eagles only seemed to get stronger, particularly on the defensive end.
"That says a lot about our conditioning," said Hurst. "It showed tonight that we're in better shape than a lot of teams we play. It's just a great overall conditioning program that we do because we know what it's going to be like in the third and fourth quarters."
Moments before the start of the final quarter and during their next possession, the Red Raiders turned it back over. After a reception and fumble by Ben Morris (four catches for 43 yards), Eastside's Jamario Parks pounced on the ball, setting up the Eagles on their own 34-yard line.
"Our whole defense played their butts off," said Hurst, "and our offensive line in the second half totally dominated."
The momentum shift carried over because seconds later Wray completed a nice 21-yard pass to Bailey. Madison was then slapped with a 15-yard penalty (intentional face mask), bringing the third quarter to a close.
Three plays into the final 12 minutes, Eastside made it 17-9 after Wray completed a nine-yard touchdown pass to Broderick Alexander (six carries for 32 yards), followed by the extra point.
After the teams swapped possessions, Madison reloaded with six minutes to go, only to be let down by Eastside's Kaleb Pass (five tackles), who - in a state of irony - used his last name to help intercept Baird's intended receiver.
"Kaleb had a great game," acknowledged Hurst.
The turnover eventually led to a one-yard touchdown run by Hill. After Tinker's extra point, the Eagles led, 24-9, with one minute and nine seconds left in the game.
"(Hill) made catches and runs that were just outstanding," praised Hurst.
In a valiant last attempt for a comeback - and despite Baird completing eight of his final nine passes - the Red Raiders fell five yards shy of scoring again, ending the game.
Overall, both teams were nearly equal in total net yards, with Madison gaining 279 compared to 260. However, it was the turnovers which ultimately cost the Red Raiders.
Wray had a game-high 38 yards rushing on 13 carries, while Aldreakos Allen led Madison with 25 rushing yards on eight attempts. In addition, Allen had a game-high 83 receiving yards on five catches, while teammate Bracken Turner followed with six catches for 58 yards.
Defensively, four players led Eastside with four tackles apiece (Bo Childers, Cale Davis, Andrew Vazquez and William White).
Madison's A'tavius Pittard (one sack) led all defensive players with eight tackles. Allen followed with six tackles, including two sacks, while three players had five tackles apiece (Brent Russell, Cody Esco and Turner).
"I've never felt like this," smiled Hurst. "I'm just proud of our whole program. Everybody (who) puts anything into Eastside is paying the dividends right now."