Playoff football is coming to Homer Sharp Stadium, and you can thank the Eastside Eagles for the extended season.
The Eastside offense was efficient as running back Anthony Brown paced the ground game with 105 yards on 10 carries and two touchdowns, while quarterback Austin Holloway went 7-of-9 passing with 104 yards and two scores. It all helped Eastside to a 34-0 win over North Clayton in a game that secured home field advantage for the Eagles in next week’s first round playoff game.
“We’ve been pushing hard to get to this spot all year long,” said Eastside coach Troy Hoff. “There’s been a lot of hard work, from the bye week, on, and it’s been nothing but go to work every day, the job in front of you and stick with the process. We got our home game and we’re excited about.”
Eastside started with a flash when speedster Eric Stokes took the opening kickoff, bounced to the outside and streaked down the sideline, out running several North Clayton players for a 73 yard kick return touchdown that gave the Eagles a quick 7-0 lead.
North Clayton promptly went three and out on its first offensive possession, which handed Eastside the ball back, setting the stage for an impressive, physical drive, featuring the ground game until Brown lost a fumble on North Clayton’s four yard line.
After North Clayton pounced on the turnover, it began a long, run-heavy drive of its own, highlighted by Keelin Lee’s fake punt on 4th and 3 at North Clayton’s own 25 yard line. Lee pushed through the middle of the Eastside defense for 11 yards to keep the drive alive It would eventually stall, however, when Cameron Gaither made a perfect read on a North Clayton screen pass and snuffed it out for a loss.
Six plays and 60 yards later, Taylor Carter pranced into the end zone virtually untouched from four yards out to give Eastside a 14-0 lead at the 8:02 mark in the second quarter. Carter would later go down with an injury that Hoff said shouldn’t be too serious.
“We think he’s gonna be alright,” he said. “He rolled up and got hit in the leg a bit. Looks like it’s going to be a bruise, but the bones are good, so he should be fine.”
North Clayton managed to get another good rushing drive going after Carter’s touchdown, which milked the rest of the second quarter clock, but some questionable clock management at the end of the half may have caused North Clayton to come up empty at the Eastside five yard line, preserving Eastside’s 14-0 lead going into the break.
In the third quarter, Eastside’s defense turned it up a notch when junior defensive tackle Spurgeon Gaither scooped up a James Monroe fumble and rumbled 31 yards for a score to stretch Eastside’s lead to 20-0.
After a North Clayton three-and-out, Eastside struck again with a five play, 48 yard drive capped off with a 16-yard scoring toss from Holloway to Stokes at the 6:09 mark in the third quarter.
Gaither then showed up again on defense when he got through to block North Clayton’s punt. Eastside would find the end zone one last time when Brown scampered in from 17 yards out after catching a short pass from Holloway to provide the final margin. His performance, Hoff said, is indicative of how he’s been performing all year, even when the spotlight isn’t on him.
“It’s not new to him,” Hoff said. “It doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet because he plays a man’s position inside. He has a lot of tackles for loss. He feels like anytime he’s one on one with a guy, it’s gonna be hard for guys to hold him.”
The defense as a whole stiffened in the second half, after allowing a few long North Clayton drives in the first two quarters. Meanwhile, Eastside rolled up over 200 rushing yards for the second straight game.
Eastside’s win pushed the Eagles’ record to 7-2-1, as they wait to discover their first round opponent.