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Eastside football falls short in playoff battle
Eastside's Eric Stokes looks for day light against Spalding during the Eagles' 24-17 first round playoff loss. - photo by Anthony Banks | The Covington News

By Kevin Nixon

The Eastside Eagles saw their season come to an end after a 24-17 loss to Spalding Friday night in the first round of the GHSA Class AAAA playoffs.

In what was an intense contest from start to finish, the Eagles struggled in the first quarter with miscues, incompletions and good defense from the Jaguars. Both defenses were stout in the first quarter as the Jaguars ended the first quarter with a 7-0 lead.

But it was toward the end of the first quarter when Eastside started showing signs of life. Eagles seniors’ Eric Stokes and Garrett Stevens closed out the first quarter with a pair of clutch tackles that ended a Jaguars’ drive. After the Jaguars punted, the Eagles took over with great field position at their own 40.

Eastside senior quarterback Austin Holloway’s first pass was incomplete. But on the next play, they give a read option look, and Holloway took the ball on a quarterback keeper and gained 15 yards for a first down.  After a 14-yard run from Stokes, Holloway used his legs to scamper into the end zone on a 10-yard run, making the score 7-7 with 8:43 left in the half.

The Jaguars tried to establish the run on the ensuing drive, but linebacker Stevens was all over the field for the Eagles, making three straight open-field tackles to help halt Spalding’s drive.

When Eastside got the ball back, Holloway went to work again, this time through the air. After taking the snap, he looked right and scrambled left to find Allen wide open from blown coverage.  Allen caught the pass and sprinted to the end zone for a 55-yard touchdown. It gave the Eagles a 14-7 lead that they would eventually take into halftime.

The second half was much tighter than the first. Spalding started in its own territory and got a 25-yard run followed by a 40-yard quarterback keeper by Naricus Driver. After positioning itself deep into Eagles territory, the Spalding drive stalled as Stevens made a pair of big tackles which forced the Jaguars to kick a field goal, cutting the Eastside lead to 14-10 with 9:59 left in the third quarter.

Eastside would promptly strike back, when Holloway connected with Harper again, who grabbed a short pass, broke a tackle by spinning away and ran 40 yards setting up the Eagles in the red zone. The Eagles came up short on third down, however, and had to settle for a field goal making the score 17-10, Eastside with 6:33 left in the third quarter.

Several plays later, Driver threw a perfect strike between two defenders that connected for a 28-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone which stunned the Eagle’s faithful, tying the game at 17 late in the third quarter.

Holloway made a rare mistake on the next drive when he threw an interception that gave Spalding new life. And then, on the very first play of the fourth quarter, Driver, on a quarterback keeper, read the defense while starting to run left and cut back to the right to find a crease in the defense. Once he did, he bolted for a 62 yard touchdown. The Jaguars took the lead for the first time since the quarter, 24-17 with 11:47 left in the game.

With eight seconds left, the Eagles had one last chance to tie the game but Holloway was forced to throw a pass off target that was picked off, sealing the game.

The loss gave Eastside a 7-3-1 finish for the season, while the Jaguars will go on next week to play the Ridgeland Panthers next Friday.

Make sure to check out our season ending re-cap of Eastside’s 2016 football season Monday at