Eastside turned the trick Saturday night as the defense held Oconee County’s highly touted quarterback in check to the tune of a 49-7 thrashing in region play.
The defense did more than hold Zach Mettenberger in check. It stripped the future Georgia Bulldog twice and kept the 6-foot-4 senior on his back throughout much of the game.
"That’s what our guys are made for," Eastside coach Rick Hurst said of his defensive line. "They [the defensive line] have to continue to get better, but when you sit back there and take your time, our guys come off the edge and they’re almost unblockable."
Unblockable is right. Karl Williams led the Eagle onslaught with three sacks and two forced fumbles as Eastside got to the quarterback seven times in all.
Offensively, the Eagles’ running game was a model of efficiency. Git Aiken scored three touchdowns and Eastside rushed for 260 yards on 25 attempts and scored six rushing touchdowns as a team. Thanks to good field position all night long, the Eagles were able to turn in several short scoring drives.
Justin Wray got is started with a 5-yard touchdown run three-and-a-half minutes into the game and the Eagles were off and running, literally.
Eastside scored on its first three possessions and seven of its first eight until Hurst pulled his starters.
"Our whole offensive line did a great job," Hurst said. "They are like a well-oiled machine right now. They are playing with a lot of confidence. You could see how much having [Jarrett] Hubbard back makes a difference. Just having him out there, it’s like a different team."
Aiken scored the first of his two rushing touchdowns on Eastside’s second possession. After Antarius Terrell set the Eagles up with a 35-yard punt return to the Oconee 34-yard yard line, Aiken ran twice for 25 yards including an 11-yard cutback for the score.
On its next possession, Eastside hit replay as Aiken cutback against the grain again for a 16-yard touchdown to put the Eagles up 21-0 with 6:22 remaining in the second quarter.
"We felt like we could get outside on them," Hurst said. "I felt like if we could get into the second level that we could get chunks and that’s exactly what happened."
Oconee County never could get on track. When Mettenberger did have time to throw, his receivers didn’t help him much. As one of the nation’s top-rated quarterbacks, the Warrior’s senior has committed to the University of Georgia. Even though he struggled to make plays, his arm strength was impressive. Mettenberger gave the Georgia faithful a glimpse of the future on Oconee’s lone touchdown when he scrambled to the left side and threw a rope down filed for a 69-yard touchdown strike to Scotty Woodall late in the fourth quarter. But even thent, Mettenberger was running for his life.
"I thought we did a great job mixing up our coverages," Hurst said. "He [Mettenberger] was looking at different things every time and our linebackers did a great job moving around. They would check into something and we would move back and then he was out of the play so I think we did a great job all night long."
Eagle kicker Yanrick Tinker had his best game of the season as he converted seven PATs and pinned the Warriors inside the 5-yard line twice on punts.
"His punts and kickoffs have been really good, we just have to give him more opportunities to make field goals," Hurst said. "As long as we’re scoring touchdowns though, he doesn’t have to kick a field goal the rest of the year."
Eastside tacked on four more touchdowns in the second half including a 45-yard pass from Wray to Aiken to essentially put the nail in the coffin with 3:38 in the third quarter.
The Eagles have scored 99 points over the past two weeks, all but erasing the tough road loss to Hart County earlier this month. But that game may ultimately come back to haunt them. Hart and Stephens County also won last week and the three teams remain in a three-way tie for first with Eastside dropping to third after the tie-breaker.
Standings aside, Hurst feels good about his team as Eastside hits the road Friday for a matchup with Morgan County.
"I knew how ready we were on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday," Hurst said. "The guys have just practiced the last two weeks with a lot of purpose and a lot of attitude and as long as we keep doing that, we can continue to do this."