Eastside’s coaching staff has waited three-and-a-half years for tonight. It’s been a while, but the Eagles take their first step toward the Georgia Dome against Creekview at Sharp Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
Eastside enters the game fresh off its latest trouncing – a 34-0 Region 8-AAA clinching victory over Franklin County Friday. But Creekview poses a new challenge.
Winners of four straight, Eastside is brimming with confidence. The Eagles have been pounding opponents and each of those games was effectively over by halftime. But Creekview comes in hot too. After an 0-4 start, the Grizzlies won six straight to close out the regular season and come into the game riding a wave of momentum. Something has to give.
"They are good at what they do," Eastside head coach Rick Hurst said. "They are hell-bent on running the ball, but they are good at sucking you in and throwing the ball when they need to."
Creekview runs a wing-T offense. While it lacks the big-play potential, Creekview’s offense could prove to be its best defense, and that has Hurst a bit concerned.
"The thing that worries me about them is they are going to be satisfied with getting three yards – three yards – three yards," Hurst said. "Even if they come up short, they are holding the ball, keeping the clock moving and keeping our offense off the field. I think that’s one of their biggest game plan, that’s to keep the ball and keep our offense off the field.
"We haven’t played a true wing-T team since Harris County. They’re better than Harris County, but that was the first game of the year. If we come out and play like we did then, and of course we’re better now too, I think we’ll be okay."
Eastside handled Harris County easily but had a harder time with Newton. The Rams held the ball for the entire fourth quarter and scored to tie the game with less than five seconds remaining in the game.
Offensively, the Eagles’ speed will give Creekview problems. Offensive coordinator Jay Cawthon watched several games on film and said his team matches up well against the Grizzlies.
"They have two linebackers that are good but they have trouble getting off blocks," he said. "Of course, they could come out and have 20 tackles against us so we have to be prepared."
Both Hurst and Cawthon said the Eagles are ready. Since suffering its only loss against Hart County one month ago, both said they haven’t had one bad practice. That gives them confidence going into the game.
The Eagles want to score early and often. During its hot streak, Eastside has scored at least two touchdowns in its first three possessions in every game while holding its opponents scoreless. That will be especially important when facing a wing-T offense.
"The wing-T is designed to methodically go down the field and score," Hurst said. "What it’s not good for is if you get behind early and have to come back. We know if you’re down by two scores and have to come back, we can tee off on you a little bit more than if we were having to play our keys and reads and stay home and not be as aggressive as if we would be if we’re tied or down."
Scoring early will allow defensive coordinator Jason Tester to open up the playbook a little more and send his two defensive ends at the quarterback.
"Their quarterback is very accurate and he’s effective," Hurst said. "If he has a chance to throw, he can make some plays. Where I know we’ll be good is if we know he has to throw. Then we can let Karl [Williams] and Jacorey [Maddox] come off those edges and be a little more aggressive."
Eastside will have to put together four solid quarters of football. The first team offense and defense haven’t played a full game in more than a month. In fact, over the past four games, the two starting teams have played 9 of 16 quarters and that’s something that has Hurst said could be the wildcard.
"The thing they have is discipline," Hurst added. "They are coached up really well and we are going to have to play well to beat them. But our guys are confident and they are ready to play. As long as we do what we know we can do, I feel like we’ll be very hard to beat."
The two teams will settle it on the field. As the No.1 seed, Eastside will be at home for as long as it is in the playoffs, provided it faces a lower seed.
"We're just worried about this game," Cawthon added." Let's win Friday the we'll see."