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MONDAY REWIND: Five things learned from Alcovy-Lakeside
Nick Simmons
Alcovy quarterback Nick Simmons raised enough eyebrows on the recruiting trail, despite the difficulties of his senior season, to give him a chance to play at the next level. - photo by Anthony Banks

COVINGTON, Ga. — There weren’t a lot of pretty moments to speak of in Alcovy’s 40-12 Region 3-AAAAAA loss to Lakeside-Evans Saturday. 

And to be sure, there weren’t a ton of smooth moments leading up to the game either. 

Recounting the days prior, the Tigers had to deal with:

  • A somewhat sudden coaching change with the dismissal of offensive coordinator, Damoio’n Wright. 
  • Practice and game schedule changes, thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Michael that pushed through the area. The Lakeside game was originally scheduled for Thursday. It was postponed to Saturday in lieu of the inclement weather.
  • A virus that coach Chris Edgar said has been working its way around the team.
  • The logistics of trying to get everybody in practice each day while out for an entire week due to Fall break. 
  • A still unsettled quarterback situation where picking a full time starter between Nick Simmons and Jaelen Campbell still hadn’t happened. 

And some of the tensions resulting from that could be felt, seen and heard Saturday on the sidelines. Throw in the low morale that no doubt comes with losing its 16th straight region game dating back to October 2015, and it wasn’t hard to detect a little consternation in the air. 

And while Edgar didn’t deny that, he also didn’t make any excuses for his team’s performance either.

“It’s been an emotional week,” Edgar said. “We didn’t execute on any side of the ball, except for kick return. It’s always tough when not at school, trying to get kids at practice every day. We missed some keys on either side of the ball that we’d been practicing all week. And when we do that, it’s tough, and you can’t be successful.” 

During Edgar’s first game with offensive play-calling duties, the results didn’t look too much different From the previous two games where Alcovy was outscored 74-0 against Colquitt County and Grovetown. 

The Tigers did get their first touchdown since the fourth quarter of the Salem game, however, when Simmons improvised and scrambled his way into the end zone from about four yards out to put the Tigers on the board. 

Andrae Robinson
Alcovy's Andrae Robinson sprints to the end zone on an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown during Saturday's game against Lakeside. -photo by Anthony Banks

Alcovy’s other touchdown came from an 85-yard kick return from Andrae Robinson late in the game. 

As far as the quarterback situation goes, Edgar elected to give Campbell the nod. The offense struggled with Campbell behind center before the senior was knocked out of the game with an injury. In came Simmons who finished a respectable 4-of-8 passing for 86 yards and the rushing score before he too exited the game with an injury to his arm that required ice and X-rays to make sure nothing was broken.

Neither quarterback has lit the world on fire statistically speaking this year. Simmons has completed 22 of 50 passes for 255 yards. That’s a 44 percent completion rate, but it’s slightly better than Campbell’s 35 percent rate and 135 passing yards.

Campbell’s had a little bit more success using his legs, as he’s rushed for 160 yards on 45 carries. But Simmons is the only quarterback that’s produced a score, although both of his touchdowns this season have come on the ground. 

Despite seven interceptions thrown, the offense has sometimes shown some extra spark with Simmons’ improvisational skills and displayed grit. He’s a bit of a gunslinger, but Edgar says the senior signal caller’s moxie may be his best quality as he will no doubt work to settle on a starter the rest of the way, with Alcovy needing two wins in its last three games to enter the postseason.

“I don’t know,” Edgar said Saturday. “That’s the question that we had. For what we were trying to do, we thought Jaelen was our best bet. But he got hurt and Nick came in. I’ve always said, he’s got fire. He’s got the heart of a lion. In fact, he didn’t want to go get X-rays (on his arm) that he probably needs to go and get. That’s just the kind of guy he is.”

And going forward, fire and heart is probably something Alcovy will definitely need as it faces an Heritage squad that is also winless in region play and in need of two wins in the last three games to secure a playoff spot. 

“Heritage is pretty much in the same place we’re in,” Edgar said. “Our backs are against the wall, and their backs are against the wall. One of those two teams is going to get a win Friday and keep their playoff hopes alive. Whatever team is not feeling sorry for themselves and not packing it in and comes out fighting will be successful. 

“We need two wins to get into the playoffs, and we gotta find two out of our next three.” 

Five Things Learned

Despite the tough outing, there were a few bright spots and positives to be taken from Saturday. Here are a few. 

1. MJ Stroud has that “it” factor to be a great player. When you watch Alcovy on offense this season — particularly its passing game — it’s hard to remember that last year’s team pegged its passing game as a success. This year through seven games, the quarterbacks have yet to produce a passing touchdown. When asked if the source of the grounded aerial attack is the quarterbacks or the fact that pretty much all of Alcovy’s pass catchers from last year are gone, Edgar calls it a combination of both. But one person who’s made either quarterback look good at times is freshman receiver MJ Stroud. As a freshman, he leads the team in catches (11) and receiving yards (159). He had a sweet hook up with a scrambling Simmons who found Stroud streaking down the sideline for a 43-yard pickup Saturday that led to Simmons’ rushing score. But Stroud is the kind of player who looks like he can make things happen every time he touches the ball. He’s got the size and above average ball skills already, and should only get better with time. Earmark this young man for the future.

MJ STroud
As a freshman, Alcovy's MJ Stroud led the team in receiving, despite being a part of a passing game that struggled throughout. -photo by Jason Mussell

2. Alcovy’s defense is salty if not always sound. As the game wore on, Alcovy’s defense stiffened. Most of Lakeside’s biggest plays and scores were either setup by, or results of Alcovy mistakes. To be sure, it wasn’t an overwhelmingly impressive looking Lakeside squad. But it seemed toward the end of the game that the Tigers just decided to forget about the score and all the other stuff happening around them and just play. Jalen Banks had another big game with eight total tackles — seven solo stops — one tackle for loss and a recovered fumble. Edgar said there were too many misalignments and keys missed to let them be consistently successful, but at least in the second half, the effort was truly there. 

3. Andrae Robinson is dangerous with the ball in his hands. Earlier Robinson darted down the sideline for a 40-yard kick return that gave Alcovy a little life. And in the fourth quarter, he scored on an 85-yard return, satisfying himself and sparking his teammate despite the inevitable. “I had to take one back,” Robinson said while coming off the field toward the sideline after the score. Lakeside kept kicking to him despite his electric tendencies, and for Robinson it finally paid off.

4. Two-quarterback systems can be a big risk. Two of Newton County’s three schools have employed a two-platoon system at quarterback while trying to see who shakes out best as starter. I don’t believe it a coincidence that those two schools, though rife with offensive talent, have also had some inconsistencies. 

Alcovy’s Nick Simmons had played admirably last year in relief of then-starter Cam Anderson who was injured. He completed close to 60 percent of his passes and began to win the trust of his team. He was pegged the likely full time starter for 2018 during most of the offseason. But when Campbell transferred over from Luella, his rushing ability became enticing, as it was becoming clear that Alcovy would be more of a running team this year. 

However, it seems at times that the switch-ups may have hindered team chemistry a bit offensively. Even when running the same offense, two different quarterbacks will bring two different feels, attributes, skill sets and personalities to the game. Different quarterbacks throw different balls and it can sometimes be underestimated how difficult it is for everyone from offensive linemen to tailbacks and receivers to adjust on the fly to constantly shifting signal callers. Here’s hoping Alcovy will settle on one guy going forward — the one who most consistently seems to put the offense in the best position to win.

5. Alcovy’s got too much talent to be 2-5. This isn’t a “throw-you-under-the-bus” observation. It’s just the truth. When I think of Alcovy at its best this season, I go back to those wins against Rockdale and Salem. Were they perfect games? No. But the heart, fire and intensity were readily seen. The offensive line was pushing. The tailbacks were running hard. Receivers were blocking on the perimeter. Alcovy rolled up 393 rushing yards and three scores against Rockdale and 214 yards and three scores against a Salem squad full of Division I talent. Since then, the Tigers have rushed for a combined 126 yards, including just 43 against Lakeside Saturday. 

Natorien Holloway
Junior Natorien Holloway still leads Alcovy in rushing despite struggling to find running room in the Tigers' last three games. -photo by Anthony Banks

Natorien Holloway, Andrae Robinson and the largest o-line the Tigers have had in years have to find that mojo again and get back to doing what they do best down the stretch of the season. Alcovy may not have state championship talent, but in a Region 3-AAAAAA with no truly dominant teams, the Tigers definitely had the talent to compete for a region crown. Somehow the team chemistry and will to win has to come back to the Alcovy sideline.