Eastside's 35-0 victory over fourth-ranked Monroe Area last Friday was a big win at the time.
But as the Eagles head into their first round playoff game today, the game looms even larger. Eastside will need all the confidence, momentum and good fortune it can get as it travels to No. 1 Sandy Creek at 7:30 p.m. The Eagles were reeling slightly after a 23-7 loss at Stephens County on Nov. 2 and faced a daunting challenge against the visiting Hurricanes. Eastside took on that challenge, getting up early and keeping momentum going in the shutout victory.
"Our guys were absolutely ready to play," Eastside coach Rick Hurst said. "We had some good things happen to us early, we had momentum on our back and we rode it. It was an awesome feeling for our seniors for them to go out there and beat the fourth-ranked team in the state.
"It's good to go into this game with a win like that because we'll see a very, very good opponent."
Coming off the win, fourth-seeded Eastside has continued its good vibes with a strong week of practices before the first-round matchup.
"Attitude has been great; we had a lot of fun out here," Hurst said.
Hurst also said he thinks the win sent a message around the state that the Eagles can matchup against the best of teams - something they have to do today.
Sandy Creek has an astounding 52-3 record throughout the past five seasons and was mentioned in an Atlanta Journal Constitution overview of the playoffs as Class AAAA's top team. The Fighting Patriots, whose last loss was in the 2011 championship to Gainesville, is loaded with Division I talent, such as Georgia commit Shaquille Wiggins (corner back) and South Carolina commit Alan Knott (offensive lineman).
"They're solid all over," Hurst said. "They have good players at every position. It's going to take a monumental effort from us and, honestly, a little bit of a down game from them."
The two teams have met each of the last two seasons with Sandy Creek coming away the victors, but by a close margin. The Fighting Patriots won 30-10 on Oct. 1, 2010 before coming away with a 13-10 victory. last year.
The Eagles were up 10-6 with a minute remaining, and Sandy Creek went into its two-minute offense and used one play to break Eastside's hearts. The Eagles had been getting to the quarterback throughout the contest and were on their way to him again on the game's pivotal play.
As Eastside was getting to him he found a wide receiver breaking free up the middle and connected on a 70-plus yard pass for the victory.
"It was a back-breaker last year," Hurst said. "It hurt us emotionally, and I don't think we ever recovered from it. That started our kind of downfall for the end of last year and it was a big emotional letdown for all of our team."
Eastside went on to lose three of its last four games and missed out on the playoffs. This year the Eagles recovered, earning a trip into the postseason, and hope to erase the memory even more with a victory over the Fighting Patriots.
"You don't want to go through it again," Hurst said. "It's a matter of us doing what we did last year, but we have to do it for 48 minutes not 47:10."
Eastside is heading into the game trying to take the lead from the get-go as it did in last week's victory against Monroe Area.
"We need something good to happen to us early, give us some confidence and give us the momentum that we had last week," Hurst said. "Our kids are going to play hard, no doubt about that, we're going to give them everything we got; go out there and see what happens."