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Eagles look to 'stay hungry' after playoff loss
Cobb Benson
Bailey Benson (7) and Anquez Cobb (2) celebrate after getting the sack in Eastside's first round matchup with Chapel Hill. - photo by Garrett Pitts

The Eastside Eagles’ season ended with their second Sweet Sixteen trip in three years.

Eastside finished the year with an 8-4 record overall. In Region 8-AAAAA play, the Eagles went 5-1.

The 2023 season was Jay Cawthon’s third year as head coach. In those three years, Eastside has played in five playoff games.

Following the second round loss to Cartersville on Friday, Cawthon spoke about seniors Anquez Cobb, Jaquez Cobb and Jacorey Jackson.

“Like I told them in there, I just hoped we made some positive influence on their life,” Cawthon said. “We always respect our kids that come to us every single day and work. Every class brings something to the table.  A lot of those cats did not play until their senior year. That is what is gratifying.”

The season did not start off the way the Eagles had hoped. By week four, Eatsisde held a 2-2 record.

Similar to the start of the 2022 season, Eastside began the year with a win over Luella.

After defeating the Lions in a one-score game at home last year, the Eagles beat Luella 34-0 this year.

Weeks two and three saw Eastside matchup with county rivals Newton and Alcovy.

Against Newton, both teams played close before the Rams broke away in the second half, eventually winning 41-7 over Eastside.

The game against the Tigers was a rebound for Eastside, that blanked Alcovy 31-0.

In its last non-region game of the year, Eastside traveled to Ola, who it beat 42-14 at home last year.

 This time around, it was Ola who flipped the script to win 42-14.

The 2-2 mark of the season was the turnaround point for the Eagles.

With the start of region play came a five-game win streak.

The Eagles responded to the loss to Ola on the road with a 39-32 win in double overtime over Flowery Branch. Junior Marion Eubanks Jr. came away with a game-sealing interception against the Falcons. 

At home versus Loganville, Eastside avenged its 2022 loss to the Red Devils with a 56-14 blowout win. The Eagles kept the same momentum going into Heritage with a 46-6 victory.

Eastside avenged another loss from last year against Clarke Central.

Against the Gladiators at home, the Eagles squeaked out a 14-7 win with the help of three interceptions from Kalen Stapp.

Facing another road test, Eastside beat Winder Barrow 56-3.

The win over the Bulldoggs set up the Region 8-AAAAA championship between Eastside and Jefferson in the final week of the regular season.

Similar to 2022, the Dragons’ run game proved to be too much for the Eagles as they fell 35-0 to Jefferson.

Though they did not end with the region crown, Eastside secured a playoff spot along with home field advantage in round one.

In their first round matchup with Chapel Hill, the Eagles found itselves in a close contest before breaking away in the second half for a 38-14 win.

Round two saw Eastside go on the road to face the undefeated Cartersville.

After a tight first half, mistakes from the Eagles put them behind late, resulting in a 28-9 loss. Following the game, Cawthon highlighted the team’s misuses. 

“We did things tonight that we did not do all year,” Cawthon said. “I am proud of my kids’ effort. I feel like they played physical and fast. We had every chance to be up at halftime, but it was like the twilight zone game, just uncharacteristic things.”

The 8-4 2023 season was a step forward from Eagles who went 6-4 in 2022, and Eastside will be returning many players next year.

Among the players returning are Payton Shaw, Jayden Barr, Eubanks, Stapp and Bailey Benson.

“We have to stay hungry,” Cawthon said. “We are going to try to take it a step further. You always want to make it a game further than the senior class. That has been a big thing for us.”