Eastside (5-2, 3-2 Region 4-AAAA) lost last week’s game to Locust Grove because of turnovers and penalties, but the Eagles flipped the script this week and forced turnovers of their own and benefitted from a number of Henry County (4-3, 4-2 region 4-AAAA) penalties to beat the Warhawks 32-16.
Tiaje Thomas started the game with a big return, breaking a couple of tackles and crossing midfield before running over a Henry County defender while going out of bounds, ending the run at Henry County’s 34-yard line. The Eagles picked up a quick first and turned the ball over on downs after a low snap resulted in QB Austin Holloway getting sacked.
Immediately after the Eagles turned the ball over Andrew Henderson picked off Warhawk QB Dominique Joseph on their first play from scrimmage and returned it 45 yards for an Eastside touchdown. Holloway found Brayden Harper in the endzone for the two-point conversion to give Eastside an 8-0 lead early in the game.
“Andrew started us off with a pick-six and anytime defense puts points on the board and starts the game off that way it’s huge,” Troy Hoff, Eastside head coach, said. “[The defense] responded to the challenge. We challenged them all week with having to play disciplined, but still playing fast, not thinking. You don’t want to handcuff ‘em and make changes and make ‘em play slow and they didn’t. Defensive staff did a great job of putting them on the ball all night and the kids – players make plays. They were in the right spot all night.”
Four plays into the Warhawks’ subsequent offensive possession and Eastside’s Ladrakigus Lott popped Henry County running back Shaheed Qaiyim after Qaiyim received the pitch on the speed option to the right, forcing a fumble that the Eagles recovered.
Quickly, the Eagles offense got going. Holloway found Josh Sims for a five-yard pickup and then hit Brayden Harper for an eight-yard gain. Then Eric Stokes reeled off three straight carries for 21 yards, with the final carry going five yards for an Eagles touchdown.
Henry County had no answer for Eastside’s defense. On third-and-nine, senior defensive end Timothy Birt sniffed out a Henry County screen play and batted down the pass to force a three-and-out, holding the Warhawks to one yard on the drive.
In minutes, Eastside traveled 75 yards for another touchdown highlighted by a facemask penalty and a 22-yard connection from Holloway to Stokes down the sideline that would have been a touchdown had Stokes been able to keep his balance before falling out of bounds. The drive was capped off by a one-yard touchdown run from Anthony Brown, and just like that Eastside had a 22-0 lead late in the first period.
Henry County’s final two possession of the first half ended in a turnover on downs, a punt and the finals drive ended with a 34-yard run from Jordan Thomas that was allowed after Eastside declined a penalty to go into halftime. Including the 34 yards on the final play of the half, Eastside held Henry County to less than 90 yards of offense in the first half.
Of their five offensive possessions in the first half, Eastside scored on three and turned the ball over on the other two, both in Warhawk territory.
Davin Griffieth would recover a Henry County fumble after halftime to get Eastside the ball back. The Eagle settled for a field goal and held a 32-0 lead early in the third quarter.
After getting the ball back, Henry County seemed to settle within themselves and drive downfield methodically on a 14-play 67-yard touchdown drive for the Warhawks’ first score of the game.
Henry County then forced an Eagle three-and-out and Dominique Joseph hit Dan Joseph for a 48-yard score. With five receivers spread out, Dominique looked around and saw nothing before scrambling for two yards for the two-point conversion to make it 32-16 at the end of the third quarter.
The Eagles played it safe and went with three straight run plays, but couldn’t pick up a first down and Henry County got the ball back. At midfield early in the fourth, Dominique hit a wide open receiver deep, but what would’ve been a touchdown to make it a one-possession game turned into a dropped pass and a missed opportunity for Henry County.
As they had been doing all night, Eastside again capitalized on another Henry County miscue. After a sack following the dropped pass, Griffieth picked off a Joseph pass to keep the game out of reach.
“When the front’s putting pressure on and fitting the gaps like they need to , the back half can run free sometimes,” Hoff said. “The safeties were a lot of heavy run support tonight and it gave them a chance to run alleyways. When you force a team that runs that offense to throw the ball, like we said, make ‘em play the clock and be one-dimensional it gave our secondary some opportunities. They’re all good with the ball.”
The Eagles would give the ball back to the Warhawks with enough time to make it a game, but the defense forced a three-and-out and the Eagles ended the game running the clock out with its ground-and-pound attack.
Hoff summed up the ending perfectly.
“It was ugly at the end, but we survived.”