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Eastside refreshed, ready for Oconee County challenge.
Eastside quarterback Brayden Harper starred as a wide receiver in last year's game against Oconee County. Now, he'll hope to lead the Eagles to another victory as the team's quarterback. - photo by Gabriel Stovall

COVINGTON, Ga. — Typically, football coaches tend to see Homecoming week in a couple of ways. 

For one, it’s an opportunity for a school’s student body to rally around its football team in a special way as school alums descent on the home team’s stadium from all around to cheer for their alma mater. 

On the other hand, coaches can sometimes get a little concerned that the smorgasbord of Homecoming week activities can become a distraction to the team. But after all that took place last week with the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irma, Eastside coach Troy Hoff doesn’t seem too worried about Homecoming week distractions. 

His team is ready to play football. 

“(Last week) we got lucky with the storm,” Hoff said. “There were some teams down in Florida who didn’t know when they were going to play. They were just hoping to go to school (this past) Monday and play. We were fortunate to know that we were gonna be in school and get the chance to play, when others weren’t sure.” 

Eastside caught a break with having a bye week fall at the same time where it got shorted several days of practice and a JV game, due to school cancellations. But now, with Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. Homecoming game against Oconee County looming, Hoff said his team is ready to get back to business on the field. 

“The guys handled everything (last week) well,” he said. “Once you get out here between the white lines, you forget about everything else.” 

Eastside will welcome what Hoff calls a “tough, good football team” to Sharp Stadium Saturday, in hopes of recreating the success it had last year when the Eagles made the trip to Watkinsville. The Eagles bested the Warriors by the slimmest of margins last season in a 32-31 road win in a game where graduated senior quarterback Austin Holloway threw for 320 yards and two scores. 

Current senior, Brayden Harper, was on the receiving end of 102 of those yards. But now he’ll be in Holloway’s place under center, as sophomore quarterback Noah Cook continues to recover from a broken collarbone. 

And given what Hoff knows about Oconee County, he expects a similar dog fight Saturday night. 

“They’re a well-coached, physical team in our classification,” Hoff said. “Since coach (Travis) Noland has been there, he’s done a great job. I go way back with him and know that he’ll have his guys prepared to play.” 

It’s just the second Class AAAA team Eastside has played this season so far. Other than a season opening Region 4-AAAA tussle with Luella, Eastside has played schools above its classification all season. But that’s something Hoff says he and his team don’t really make a big deal about. 

“I don’t think it really matters,” he said. “Playing teams above our class, we know it’s going to be challenging, but it makes us a better team down the road. “In the playoffs, we’re gonna play teams like that. I like being competitive, whether its Class 4A or 5, 6 or 7A schools. Tough opponents give you an idea of what kind of team you are and will be.”