COVINGTON, Ga. -- A full crowd in Homer Sharp Stadium and a rowdy Eagle’s Nest student section looked on Friday night as the Eastside Eagles passed their preseason tune up with flying colors in a 50-0 win against Walnut Grove.
In a game that featured several new faces on both sides of the ball, offensively speaking, Eastside didn't waste any time trying to get the ball into the hands of some of its new playmakers.
The Eagles started the game with a run by sophomore tailback Sincere Johnson, followed by a quick screen pass from senior quarterback Noah Cook to Ramon Hernandez, another sophomore ball carrier.
An incomplete pass by Cook led to a third-and-short situation with a complete pass to Dayton Green setting up a 1st and 10. The next play was Cook spotting an open Jeffery Haynes on top of the defense streaking down the field.
Offensive coordinator Jay Cawthon could be heard screaming “touchdown” in the press box before Cook even released the ball. That's because Haynes -- a legit 4.3-second 40-yard dash guy -- had soundly beaten man coverage, seemingly from the beginning of the play.
The result was a 45-yard touchdown pass that put Eastside up 7-0 at the 9:32 mark of the first quarter.
It was the passing game that clicked best for the often run-heavy Eagles offense, and a hefty and seasoned offensive line with four returning starters from 2018 season was a big part of that, Cook said.
“I had all the time in the world tonight, Cook said. “I didn't have any pressure at all, and so it made it really easy. I saw the safety was playing down, and I know that Chicago was going to be open just from the pre-snap read. I just waited for him to get up and past that safety.”
Eastside head coach Troy Hoff recognized on that play the chemistry that Cook, and Haynes – who the team affectionately calls “Chicago” – have developed.
“Well, it's a play that isn't just a one-shot," Hoff said. "He got the look with a post over the top with Jeff. We all know how Jeff can run, and he caught the safety flat-footed and let it go. Those two developed some good chemistry on the deep ball, and he went through [the reads], [and] he had the alert before the play started by linemen.”
On the next Walnut Grove drive, senior Mark Jackson stuffed an inside run by the Warriors. The Warriors quarterback then converted on third down with a 40-yard pass to the Eastside 27-yard line. But Jackson was there again to disrupt the next play on the 1st and 10.
Then Eastside linebacker Sam Button was able to fight his way through the gaps and get a third down sack, ending what could have been a scoring drive for the warriors.
This type of hard-nosed defense is what drove Eastside Friday night.
“Any great defense you get as many guys to the ball as possible,” Hoff said. “They're still learning. There are things we got to clean up with alignment and assignment obviously, but they're playing hard. They're playing physical, and that's always the starting point. Never been around a good defense that isn't hard [and] isn't afraid to get to the ball for ourselves that's a great sign for the young guys.”
The Eagles began their second drive of the game at the 45-yard line and ran off two consecutive running plays by Dallas Johnson for a total gain of eight yards. Cook then dropped back to find an open Colby Shivers for an eight-yard pass. Dallas Johnson's number was called again, and he delivered for an eight-yard gain.
On third down after losing three yards on a run play, Cook was able to regain control and sidearm a 25-yard pass to Dallas Johnson, setting up a 1st and goal at the five-yard line.
As aforementioned, Cook’s control of the game, was set up by his offensive line, but also by his comfortability with the offense. Cook’s plan coming into the game was to set the tempo of the offense for the start of the season through this scrimmage.
“My biggest goal was our offense [and] getting our tempo going quick enough to where we want it,” Cook said. “We did great tonight, and we still have plenty, plenty in the tank.”
Cook finished with 79 yards passing while tossing two scores. He continuously heaped praise upon his offensive line.
“We got some dogs upfront, and they're ready to go all the time,” Cook said. “That was my biggest goal -- to see how quick we could move, and we well-surpassed my expectations.”
Walnut Grove looked to have possibly recovered from the early shock of Eastside’s offense with a goal-line stand on first down. But on second down, Cook found Giovanni Macek in the corner of the end zone for that second score with 2:46 remaining in the opening quarter.
At the beginning of the second, it was the Eagles defense's turn to shine. A sack of a Walnut Grove quarterback forced a fumble that was pounced on by Christian Benson. The Warrior defense redeemed itself by forcing the Eagles into a 27-yard field goal by Ezra King.
Later, Jalen Davis intercepted a Walnut Grove pass in the end zone and proceeded to advance the ball to the Eastside 45 before a penalty brought it back to the Eagles' own 13.
This set up backup quarterback Jaylen Woods to feed Haynes with his second touchdown catch of the day. It happened when Woods dropped a perfect dime to Haynes who caught it in stride en route to the end zone for a 64-yard scoring strike.
It gave Hoff an opportunity to speak on the improvement he's seen from last year's JV signal caller.
“We want to get Jaylen quality snaps tonight because Jay’s playing receiver and he's splitting, a little double duty,” Hoff said. “We've done that with a lot of our quarterbacks in the past -- that's kind of been the pathway. Noah is kind of the exception to that out of our last two quarterbacks. [Woods] is a good athlete. Being another year older in the system, I think playing receiver has helped him in the offense. He already knew it, but [he has a better] grasp of where to be and where guys are going to be pre-snap by defensive alignment and where he's going to go with the football.”
King would tack on a short field goal before the second quarter ended, giving Eastside a 27-0 halftime lead.
Coming out of halftime, Walnut Grove didn’t seem to be interested in fighting their way back in, and it showed with their quick three-and-out. Eastside’s play was doubly sloppy as a Hernandez run was stopped for a loss of 15-yards, coupled by an incomplete pass from the Eagles.
The Eagles tacked on three more scores from Jonathan Wright and Jacob Jenson to salt it away. And despite the lopsided tally on the scoreboard, Hoff said there's plenty for his bunch to work on before heading to Ola next Friday at 7:30 p.m. for the regular season opener.
“There's a lot of things we didn't do very well tonight,” Hoff said. “I know the scoreboard says different, but there's a lot of things that you can't get away with long-term. We've got to fix some alignment things [and] how we're playing some blocks.
“Offensively, we got to clean some things up with protection and at the point of attack, so it was far from the perfect effort. Again, I liked our energy on how we're playing. We executed really, really well at times. But there were times where, like down here at the end of the half, we got bogged down, we missed a few things.
"In that situation, we don't want to leave with three (points). And so there's definitely things that we got to clean up this week.”