If Friday night’s game between Eastside and Morgan County would have been a prize fight, it was over in the first round.
Shades of Mike Tyson, pre-Evander Holyfield ear biting incident, Eastside delivered the haymaker and the Bulldogs had no counter punch as the Eagles cruised to a 35-7 win.
Perhaps more important, Eastside can win the Region 8-AAA title outright Friday with a win over Franklin County to give the school its first ever football championship.
Quarterback Justin Wray scored three touchdowns and Broderick Alexander and Git Aiken both rushed for more than 100 yards while Eastside’s defense held the Bulldogs under 100 yards of total offense until late in the fourth quarter.
Eastside did what it has done over the past two games; score early and often. Alexander got things going and wasted little time giving his team the lead. Two plays into the Eagles’ opening drive, the senior running back rumbled 53 yards for a touchdown and just like that, Eastside led 7-0 with 10:41 left in the first quarter.
Zach Johnston set the tone for the defense on Morgan County’s first attempt with a 12-yard sack on third down and the offense went back to work with the ball at the Bulldog 39-yard line. After Aiken picked up a first down with a 14-yard run, Wray took the ball over the left side for a nifty 21-yard scoring run and the Eagles led 13-0 with barely four-and-a-half minutes gone in the game.
"That was important," Eastside coach Rick Hurst said of his team’s quick start. "I told the kids from the get go that I thought that would be important to score early. The run by Broderick [Alexander] was just a great play. The guys did a great job up front."
The Eagles’ offense kept the pedal to the metal on and was actually the only unit capable of stopping the onslaught. After back-to-back turnovers, Eastside scored on consecutive drives, both rushing touchdowns by Wray, to take a 28-0 lead into halftime.Defensively, the Eagles completely shut Morgan County down. Defensive linemen Jacorey Maddox, Jerrell Crowder and Karl Williams wreaked havoc in the backfield and kept Morgan County quarterback JD Hawkins on his heels from the outset.
"They looked unblockable tonight," Hurst said of his linemen. "They did some good things. They were quick off the ball and I think being homecoming, it might have made the guys a little antsy to get out here. It was nice to get out here and take care of business early and force them to throw the football because that’s not what they [Morgan County] are used to doing."
The Bulldogs didn’t pick up a first down until an Eastside penalty on Morgan County’s third possession moved the chains. In fact, during one stretch, Eagle penalties were Morgan County’s best offensive plays. The Eagles committed several uncharacteristic penalties including an usportsmanlike conduct call against Hurst after he voiced his displeasure at a blatant no-call of an intentional grounding pass and Morgan County was able to sustain two drives as a result.
"I was just asking him a question," Hurst said with a chuckle. "Nah, but I told the kids that one was one me and to settle down, get back their composure and not say anything and they did. We stopped them there in their tracks and ended up getting the ball back."
As much as the officiating appeared to favor of the home team, it didn’t matter. Eastside’s defense was just too tough.
"Our defense played outstanding tonight," Hurst said. "They were just all over the place, flaying around and making plays. They’ve played with a purpose. Our defensive coordinator Jason Tester puts together a great scheme and the kids just come out here and perform."
Eastside took the opening drive of the second half 53 yards in four plays and Tony Atwater scored from nine yards out to put an exclamation point on the Eagles third straight impressive victory.
Alexander finished with 113 yards on just five carries while Aiken tallied 103 yards on six.
Over the past three games, the Eagles have scored 134 points while yielding just two touchdowns. Had Hurst left in his starters - he called the dogs off in the third quarter of each victory, its possible the defense wouldn’t have given up a single point.
With both Hart County and Stephens County also winning games Friday, Eastside remains in a virtual tie for the top spot in the region. The Eagles own the tie-breaker over Stephens as they defeated the Indians earlier in the year, but due to Georgia High School rules, the Eagles will win the tie-breaker over Hart County, the only team to defeat them so far, as it comes down to winning percentage versus 3-A opponents. Eastside is 5-1 (.800) where as Hart is 5-2 (.600). All Eastside has to do is beat Franklin County at Sharp Stadium on Friday and the Eagles will hoist the Region 8-AAA crown and host at least one playoff game.
"I think they [his team] understand what it means," Hurst said. "I don’t think we will have a problem keeping them focused. They are right on the doorstep of doing something at Eastside that hasn’t ever been done before. We have a chance to win the region championship and host a playoff game and that’s a huge lift. If you can’t get motivated for that, there isn’t anything in the world I can do to motivate you."