Eastside football coach Rick Hurst was visibly upset after last week’s loss. Normally a cordial man who goes out of his way to accommodate those who want a piece of his program, the fourth-year field general was speechless. Why? Because that’s how much he cared about how his team played, or more importantly, lost.
"Hart County is a good team, but they weren’t 24-7 good," Hurst said. "I think we overlooked them a little bit. I was disappointed at how we acted there at the end of the game and I think the kids were embarrassed. We talked about winning and losing with class. I know those kids [Hart Co.] were talking junk. We’ve done the same thing and I talked to the team about that. It’s part of the game and it’s okay, but it comes around so I wanted them to understand that."
True, the 24-7 defeat at the hands of the Bulldogs, in Hartwell, was a shocker. After two days to go over film and think about the loss, the Eagles went right back to work in preparation for a chance at redemption when the Eagles usher Jackson County into Sharp Stadium tonight at 7:30 p.m.
"The mood has been good," Hurst said. "Monday was a little tough but they responded really well. They came out with a good attitude and we put them through a little bit more physical stuff then we usually do on Mondays just to make sure that we can still play that way."
The Eagles (5-1, 2-1 Region 8-AAA) are in a log jam at the top of the region standings. Tied with four other teams (Hart County, Stephens County, Franklin County and Oconee County), Eastside has a chance to make a move on at least one team as Hart faces Oconee. More importantly, the Eagles have a chance to wash the bad taste of the Hart County game out of their mouths.
"We weren’t the game mentally from the kickoff," he said. "I felt it going out and I said something to them at halftime and I hoped to get some sort of response and I didn’t get it, but that’s what happens sometimes. I’m actually glad it happened when it did. I hate to lose that game like that but I hope we all learned from it. I think it came at the right time. Now we have to go back out there and play like we are capable of. We are done thinking about the playoffs. We have to worry about each game staring with Hart County."
Hurst has been around long enough to know when a team is ready to play.
"It’s hard, at any level, to maintain the intensity that you have to win in big games," Hurst said. "You see it in the NFL. You may see on Saturday with Texas. Missouri may give them all they want. It’s a physical game, but it’s also a mental game and I think you spend so much time on the physical aspect that you sometimes forget about the mental side."
The offense has preformed well and the running game has been the backbone of the Eagles attack. Last week Justin Wray showed what he can do in the passing game when given time, but the offensive line will have to show up tonight in order to get both the running and passing game on track.
Defensively the Eagles need to improve against the run. Eastside has seen two consecutive 150-yard plus rushers chew its defense up. Hart County showed last week if you force the Eagles into an early passing situation and can control the line of scrimmage, Wray and the running game can only do so much damage. Hurst hopes to get back to the physical style of football that enabled the Eagles to open the season 5-0. To do so, he will rely on short memories and a team wide effort.
"A lot of people around here may not remember, but my first year here we penciled Jackson County as a game we thought we would be able to win," Hurst said. "We went up there and got beat and that was one of the lowest points of my career. I knew then that we were probably staring at an 0-10 season. The one thing about them [Jackson Co.] is they are going to play hard. They are going to play physical until you take it to them. They’re not going to come in here with any other thought than knocking us off. We have to come out, be physical and play four quarters of quality football."
Jackson Co. (1-4-1) at Eastside (5-1)
7:30 p.m., Sharp Stadium
Coaches: Billy Kirk; Eastside, Rick Hurst
Records: Jackson (1-4-1, 0-3 Region 8-AAA); Eastside (5-1, 2-1)
Last week: Jackson County; lost to Franklin Co. 14-0; Eastside; lost to Hart Co. 24-7
Prediction: EASTSIDE, Last week's game was a factor of preparation or lack thereof than skill. Coach Rick Hurst admitted the Eagles didn't come to play and was more angry at himself than his team. That won't happen this week. Eastside is the better team, bar none. After last week's mess, look for the Eagles to reassert themselves as the team to beat in Region 8-AAA. Eagles win by 21.