Two teams that mirror each other in terms of playing style with spread formations, screen plays and scrambling quarterbacks that can throw downfield and make plays on the run entered Sharp Stadium on Friday night, but instead of a back-and-forth affair, Eastside dominated to earn the 37-12 victory moving to 3-0 (1-0 Region 4-AAAA) on the season.
Last year these two teams couldn’t have been on more opposite spectrums. Griffin was a dominant team and Eastside was good, but young and the Bears beat the Eagles twice last year by a combined 66 points, something that had to be on the Eagles’ minds this year.
Eastside looked to have started the game on the wrong foot as the Eagles were called for a blocking in the back penalty immediately after receiving the kickoff. However, it didn’t matter as the Eagles picked up 82 yards on eight plays to get into Griffin territory.
Austin Holloway dropped back on third and goal, but the Eagles couldn’t pick up the blitz and Holloway was sacked. Eastside settled for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead early in the first.
On the ensuing drive, Eastside’s defense held tight and limited the Bears to eight yards, forcing the three-and-out to get the ball back.
Eastside, with good field position at midfield, would score a touchdown after forcing the three-and-out as Holloway completed three passes to three different receivers over 10 yards on the drive before Andrew Henderson capped it off with a one-yard keeper on fourth and goal to put the Eagles up 10-0 toward the end of the period.
Two Griffin first downs had the Bears picking up momentum, but a sack by Brady Dial pinned them back and forced third and long. Griffin quarterback, Tylan Morton scrambled around, broke some tackles and found a receiver open in the end zone, but it was dropped and the Bears were forced to punt.
With the ball at midfield, Eastside’s junior running back Eric Stokes popped off a 49-yard run just one yard short of the score. Holloway would cap the drive off with a one-yard run on the next play out of the read-option package that worked so effectively for Eastside on the night. The Eagles led 17-0 in the second quarter.
Again the Bears had momentum creeping into Eagles’ territory, but junior Tiaje Thomas picked off a pass on a comeback route to get the Eagles the ball back. Eastside carried its 17-0 lead into halftime.
Coming out of halftime, Eastside’s defense, which was strong all night, forced another three-and-out. Like they’d been doing the entire game, Eastside’s offense picked up off of the defense’s momentum to put more points on the board.
Quickly, Holloway found Brayden Harper for a 12-yard gain to begin the Eagles’ drive, which began at the 50-yard line. After Stokes lost two yards on the run attempt, Holloway found junior wide receiver Josh Sims for an 11-yard gain to pick up a first down.
Two plays later and it was Stokes again as he came running in from the right just before the snap on the jet sweep to the left that Stokes carried off into the sunset for a 15-yard touchdown, giving the Eagles a 24-0 lead with 8:21 to play in the third quarter.
Griffin came out playing angry after the Eagles’ third touchdown of the night and rattled off a few big plays that led to an eight-yard touchdown pass from Morton to Anthony Shinholster. The two-point conversion attempt failed as the pass was dropped in tight coverage.
The game could’ve turned quickly there, but Eastside responded swift and in highlight fashion. On the second play of the Eagles’ ensuing drive after Griffin’s first touchdown the Eagles ran a fake screen to the left that was perfectly executed by a pump fake from Holloway before he rifled a bomb to Sims who was wide open at the 10-yard line. Sims caught the ball, ran right, stutter-stepped and went left before spinning off a Griffin defender tugging at Sims’ knee pads and diving into the end zone for the 41-yard touchdown catch and run.
It was one terrific play to sort of cap off a great night for Eastside. Henderson would score again from three yards out midway through the fourth to give Eastside a 37-6 lead, but Griffin added a late touchdown at the 2:30 mark before the Eagles ran out the clock to end the game and get the 37-12 win.
Austin Holloway finished 16/19 with 185 yards passing, in addition to six carries for 35 yards rushing with one passing touchdown and one rushing. Stokes, arguably the best player on the field, finished with over 200 yards of total offense on 15 touches. Stokes had 11 carries for 168 yards and four receptions for 38 yards with one touchdown.
“The o-line did a great job. We adjusted some blocking schemes and again, I’m gonna put it on them,” Troy Hoff, Eagles’ head coach, said. “They were creasing them up the middle and like we always tell them, ‘Our backs don’t need gaping holes. They need a crease and a seam and if we can create that for ‘em their talented enough to score on any play.’ So great job, great team effort on that.”
On defense, the Eagle’s pass rush, especially the defensive line made a huge impact on the game tipping balls that were intended passes and getting pressure on the quarterback.
“If you get a lead you can make a team one dimensional. That helps your defense. You can’t just ignore the run, but you know that the other team has to press and it’s harder for them to run the football because the clocks against them. Early on they did a great job taking away the run,” Hoff said. “Again, that’s a point of emphasis; they like to spread you out like we do. We’re mirrors of each other and we’re trying to get people out of the box so the front seven did a great job and safety support did an excellent job.”
However, it wasn’t just the defensive line that showed out, the secondary played very well, forcing one interception, rarely letting a receiver behind them and most of all wrapping up free runners.
“The defensive staff did a great job of putting our guys in spots all night,” Hoff said. “The kids executed and on defense when you’re pass-rushing a lot and getting tired, it’s a lot of want-to, and they kept going and kept going. There’s no quit in those kids, so they played really hard tonight.”
“They take pride in being complete players,” Hoff added about his secondary. “They love coverage, obviously, but they’re not afraid to come up and put a hat on you. That’s a testament to tough kids. They love playing the game.”