Over the last three games, Eastside has run and defended teams into early submission. With a region championship on the line, Friday was no different as the Eagles dominated Franklin County to earn the school’s first ever region football title with a resounding 34-0 win at Sharp Stadium.
"I can’t describe the feeling, I really can’t," Eastside coach Rick Hurst said. "Coach [Jay] Cawthon and I talked this morning about when we walked in three-and-a-half years ago and looked at that first film, we said, if we could just win three [games]. We didn’t – you know, we didn’t win a game. But I told the guys and the coaching staff that when you outwork folks and do things the right way, the way your are supposed to do, eventually good things will happen to you. This is a great staff and a great team and I’m happy for them."
In four years, Hurst took a program lacking an identity and turned it into a legitimate contender for a state championship. Despite that 0-10 start, the Eagles have improved each season under his leadership. After going 7-3 last year in Region 8-AAAA, the Eagles (9-1, 7-1 Region 8-AAA) moved to a new region. The move paid off and the Eagles can finally call themselves region champs.
Like a fined-tuned Swiss watch, Eastside started the game much the same way it had the past month. Git Aiken and Broderick Alexander carried the rushing load as the Eagles went 79 yards in five plays with Alexander scoring on a 16-yard run and just like that, the Eagles jumped to the early 7-0 lead.
Eastside took even less time scoring on its next drive. With the ball at the Eagles’ 22-yard line, Aiken broke off a 64-yard run to move the ball to the 14-yard line. One play later, Justin Wray found Kevin Agudo in the flat and the big tight end took it in to put the Eagles up 14-0.
"Our offense is playing with confidence right now," Hurst said. "Our back trusts our line and our line trusts our backs. Right now we are putting together a good game plan each and every week."
Alexander got back into the end zone on Eastside’s fourth drive. On fourth-and-goal, from the two, he took the handoff straight up the gut and with the PAT, the Eagles led 21-0 with 6:20 to go until halftime.
While the Eagles were clicking on offense, The Lions found it nearly impossible to move the ball. Eastside’s defense held Franklin County to just two first downs in the first half.
"I’m really proud of what we are doing [on defense]," Hurst said. "I was a little worried about their back [Jay Moon]. He's is a good back, but we came out and really played well against him and I’m just proud of the guys."
After yet another a stout defensive effort pinned the Lions deep in their own territory, the Eagles went back to work with a short field. Eastside took advantage of the good field position and Alexander cashed in his third touchdown run, this time from 30 yards out. After the PAT, the Eagles led 28-0 with 4:19 left in the half.
Alexander wasn’t done. After a Franklin County punt gave the ball to the Eagles at the Lions’ 45-yard line. The senior running back bounced off a tackler and sprinted into the end zone for his fourth touchdown of the half.
Franklin County blocked Yanrick Tinker’s PAT and the Eagles took a 34-0 lead into halftime. It turns out that’s all they needed.
Hurst sat his starters in the second half and the reserves did their part to keep up the intensity and preserve the shutout.
When it looked like the Lions may break into the scoring column, Eastside intercepted the ball at the goal line and the offenses took a knee to run out the clock.
The Eastside rushing attacked looked like a well-oiled machine. Alexander rushed for 147 yards in the first half while Aiken chewed up 125 yards on just five carries.
"They keep making a liar out of the for the last four weeks," Hurst said of his two running backs. "They [Alexander and Aiken] just played really well. They’re focused and the key now is trying to get them used to playing beyond now. Now they have to refocus because it gets harder and harder each and every week that we are in [the playoffs]."