For two weeks, Eastside has looked like the San Francisco 49ers of the late ’80s, putting up 50 and 49 points in wins over Jackson County and Oconee County. But those win will mean nothing if the Eagles can’t pull out a win tonight over Morgan County on the road.
Eastside (7-1, 4-1 Region 8-AAA) remains in a three-way tie for the top spot with Hart County and Stephens County, but a win tonight will secure a playoff spot. Even though Morgan County sports a paltry 1-4 region record and will miss the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, Eastside coach Rick Hurst is taking nothing for granted.
"Anytime you are playing a team that is playing for pride, it can be a little scary," he said. "They are a one-team town and they have a lot of tradition and a proud program, so we have to be on our game."
The Eagles have made a habit of starting off games quickly and scoring early. Hurst said the key to his team’s success has been putting early pressure on his opponent and believes if the Eagles come out and score early, it will give his team confidence while having an adverse affect on the Bulldogs.
"It puts pressure on their offense," Hurst said. "I know from experience that when you have to come right back and score, it can be tough. I think if we can establish ourselves early it may take the wind out of their sails and they may feel like they’re in for another long night."
The Eagles will attempt to establish the run early and often as both Git Aiken and Broderick Alexander are expected to set the tone from the outset in the running game.
"We try to mix it up as much as possible," Hurst said. "I know it looks like we have been one dimensional lately, but we have had some much success running the ball the last two weeks, we haven’t needed to pass."
That doesn’t mean the Eagles can’t or won’t pass. Hurst said it just comes down to how the game is shaping up and what the defense is giving him.
"It’s just a feel," he said. "We are becoming very efficient in the passing game during practice and we know will may have to pass the ball to be successful in the playoffs so we are prepared to go the air if we need to."
Defensively, the Eagles have been just as dominant. After suffering the tough road loss to Hart County earlier this month, Eastside has refocused and is determined to erase the memories of the defeat.
"I think that loss was probably the best thing that happened to us," Hurst said. "As much as I hate to lose, I think it humbled us and made us realize we maybe weren’t as good as we thought we were. Since then we have increased the intensity in practice and learned what it’s like to lose so it has prepared us for the stretch drive."
The Eagles are playing well in all three phases of the game right now. Kicker Yanrick Tinker had his best game last week with two punts inside the 5-yard line and Karl Williams stripped Oconee’s Zach Mettenberger twice in the passing game. Against Morgan County, the Eagles will see a little less passing and more running. Regardless of offensive sets though, Hurst is confident his team will be up for the challenge tonight.
"We have to go out there tonight and play our game," he said. "We are playing as well as we have right now and I feel like if we execute our game plan, we’ll be okay."