In a game where both Eastside and Salem both had tons to play for as far as postseason seeding goes, Eastside looked like the hungrier team from the beginning, and carried that hunger out for a full four quarters as the Eagles easily defeated Salem 49-14, setting up a Region 4-AAAA clash for second place next Friday against North Clayton.
The Eagles wasted no time pushing the accelerator on offense, when Austin Holloway went up top to Josh Sims on the game’s first play for a 47 yard pass that immediately put the Eagles in scoring position.
Four plays later, it was Anthony Brown finding his way into the end zone to give Eastside an early 7-0 lead.
“We definitely started fast tonight, which is something we always wanna do,” said Eastside coach Troy Hoff. “That’s kind of our M.O. with tempo. So we started fast, took care of our quarterback all night, and anytime we can do that, we feel like we can hit some shots.”
After Eastside’s quick score, both defenses held serve for the next couple of series, as Eastside forced a three-and-out, while Salem’s De’morreal Burnam, a Tennessee commit, picked off an errant Holloway pass that looked like the result of a miscommunication between quarterback and receiver.
The Seminoles were unable to muster any offense after the turnover, however, and after Eastside partially blocked the ensuing punt, the Eagles went 28 yards in four plays, climaxed by Taylor Carter’s four-yard stroll into the end zone untouched, stretching Eastside’s lead to 14-0, still with 4:37 left in the first quarter.
Eastside would get the ball right back when Caleb Allen picked off Donald Wilson’s pass three plays later and returned it a few yards to set the Eagles up on its own 37 yard line. Holloway almost hit Sims on another long passing play that would’ve been a sure touchdown, but Sims dropped it. The Eagles made up for it six plays later though when Holloway connected with Jamari Brown on a 37-yard scoring strike to give Eastside a 21-0 lead.
Two offensive possessions later, Brown would push his way in to score from six yards out, providing the Eagles with a 28-0 halftime lead.
As urgently as Eastside began the game, Salem started off the 3rd quarter the same way.
Wilson connected with Keevan Bailey on a 64-yard touchdown pass at the 10:08 mark to cut Eastside’s lead to 28-7.
Eastside answered quickly, though, when Carter burst through the heart of Salem’s defense, juked one defender, spun off another, and darted down the field for a 52 yard score. Carter finished the game an unofficial total of 137 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries. He came into the game with 399 yards and five touchdowns on the season, and Hoff said he likes the development of his young ball carrier.
“Yes, we do expect that kind of production from him,” Hoff said. “He’s just a sophomore, but what you saw tonight, that’s what you see in practice. He’s the type of kid who’s very football savvy for his age. I’d like to have a couple more of him, but he’s doing a great job.”
Salem tried to mount another scoring drive to answer, but once it got inside the Eagles’ five yard line, the Eastside defense stiffened for four straight plays, turning the Seminoles away.
Four plays later, Holloway found Brayden Harper on a short pass over the middle. Harper did the rest of the damage, breaking two tackles and rumbling 83 yards for a touchdown.
Believe it or not, it got worse for Salem before the end when Nick Gaithers made a leaping grab to pick off another Wilson pass. Eastside’s Holloway would take a quarterback keeper around left end for 28 yards which set up a nine yard touchdown run from Carter on the first play of the fourth quarter, to pad Eastside’s lead to 49-7.
Shondell Edghilll got in for a four yard score for Salem in garbage time to provide the final score. And Eastside’s domination left first year Salem coach Jarrett Laws impressed with the Eagles, yet still optimistic with his own squad.
“Eastside is a team that’s four years strong,” Laws said. “They’re senior heavy, and they’ve done a great job with that class. You’ve got guys who have won championships in several sports, particularly track, and these kids have played nearly 40 games together. There’s not much you’re going to give them that they haven’t seen. I’ve got great respect for Troy (Hoff) and their scheme. They scheme you well, and you have to have veteran snaps in order to recognize their keys. Our guys don’t have that yet, but we’re working, and we still have a shot at the postseason next week.”
Eastside’s playoff berth has already been clinched. The win upped the eagle’s record to 6-2-1 and 3-1 in Region 4-AAAA. Now the Eagles will travel to Riverdale to face North Clayton (5-4, 3-2) next Friday in a game that, if Eastside wins, will allow them to lay claim to sole possession of second place in the region, guaranteeing an opportunity to host a first round playoff game.
North Clayton defeated Henry County Friday night 38-0, and Hoff said his team already knows how big next week’s matchup is and how much it’ll mean to get that first round home game.
“That’s what it is. We’ve been talking about it all week,” Hoff said. “The playoffs start in another week or so, but these games are playoff games. We’re fighting to get game 11 at home. We like playing here. The kids love playing here. We’ve got great administration, great student and fan support, and any time you’re able to play at home, there’s a comfort level for you. We feel if we can get that home game, it’s an advantage for us.”