RIVERDALE, Ga. — At first glance, it might not seem possible to glean much of any value from Eastside’s Thursday night 37-0 Region 4-AAAA opening win over North Clayton. But the Eagles did show enough in the weather-shortened matchup to give us an idea of what we could possibly learn about them as they head into their final bye week of the year.
Here are five things we learned.
1. Eastside knows how to take care of business. Eastside coach Troy Hoff constantly stressed to his players during their two weeks of practice, the importance of taking care of business in what seemed to be an otherwise mundane game. Eastside showed that it could do that, which often is one of the telltale signs of a team that’s ready to take that next step. Although Hoff said he’d rather string three or four more” games together before another break, he also expressed his confidence in his team’s ability to remain focused, knowing the high stakes in the games that lay ahead.
2. Cook to Colby is becoming a lethal combination. Noah Cook threw for over 250 yards on 10 completions. Four of those completions — including two touchdowns — went to tight end Colby Shivers. Shivers has proven himself to not just be a safety valve option in Eastside’s passing game, but also a deep threat, as he showed against North Clayton. Hoff and the coach staff laud him for being the consummate leader on the field, more so by example than anything else. And for all the talk of Eastside’s running game with its four capable tailbacks in Taylor Carter, Quincy Cullins, Terrence Reid and Jordan Rogers, the passing game with Shivers and Jamari Brown is proving to be explosive.
3. It’s beginning to look like Eastside’s region to win. Coaches won’t look ahead, so we’ll do it for you. With Woodward Academy losing two early games and Salem falling to an Alcovy team the Eagles trounced two weeks ago, it’s hard not to look at Region 4-AAAA and say that this may be the best opportunity Eastside’s had to win its region in quite some time. The Eagles are ranked No. 7 in Class AAAA, and it’s not because they’re teeming with depth or overloaded with five-star prospects. It’s because they play with an edge, they’re disciplined and they don’t beat themselves. After another bye week, Eastside will have pivotal games with Woodward and Salem back-to-back after first hosting Luella on a Thursday night. We’ll talk about how fun that could be in just a moment.
4. Taylor Carter is versatile. He’s a pretty unassuming guy. Coach Hoff even admits he’s not going to win the big talker of the year award. But Carter’s play is saying enough for the senior. Against North Clayton, he not only showed off his ample vision and toughness as a ball carrier, but he’s also starting to become more of an option for Eastside in the passing game, catching balls in the flat and coming out of the backfield. And the thing I like about Carter is the silent edge he plays with in a game. On one particular play — a touchdown run — Carter slowed his sprint to a trot and looked back at a North Clayton defender trying to chase him down. It wasn’t an arrogant play. More like confident one. And in my two years of covering this area, this is the most confidence I’ve seen an Eastside team play with.
5. The second half of the season will be fun. We talked earlier about the those two big games coming off of the bye week and Luella. And with Woodward looking a tad vulnerable and Salem still a bit inconsistent, not only could this be Eastside’s region to win, but it could also be an outside shot at an undefeated regular season. That’s not the kind of stuff a one-game-at-a-time coach likes to hear. But if Eastside can push past Woodward and Salem, there doesn’t seem to be another formidable challenge left on their schedule. Obviously there’s still a ton of football left to be played, and these are all mere speculations. But it should make for a second half of the season full of storylines.