McDONOUGH, Ga. — Yikes.
That’s probably the best, most succinct way to summarize Class AAAA No. 9 Eastside’s night at Ola in Friday’s season opener. But the best way to describe the likely response is almost as brief: Bounce back.
That’s what coach Troy Hoff and his charges will be angling to do with the first of two in-county rivalry games looming, starting off with a revenge-minded Newton bunch next Friday.
Tyler Williams got the chance to chat with Hoff after last night’s 58-21 loss at Ola, and the coach shed some light on everything from key injuries suffered to the mentality he and his coaching staff challenged the team to embrace when it seemed like things were going from bad to worse.
Here’s what we learned from last night’s season kickoff.
1. What exactly happened?
This is a question plenty of people who weren’t at the game were asking when they laid eyes on that grueling final score. All in all, a series of things contributed to the large margin of defeat Eastside suffered at the hands of the Ola Mustangs. Not only was starting running back Terrence Reid out for the entire contest, but the Eagles lost quarterback Noah Cook to concussion protocol just before halftime, leaving Jaylen Woods to stay behind center for the remainder of the game. But head coach Troy Hoff noted lack of execution in crucial moments, not just injuries, as being a contributing factor in the loss. “We struggled,” Hoff said. “Little things lead to big things. When you play this game long enough, you are going to end up on the other side of one of those. (Ola's) got good personnel and a good scheme that fits their players and its us doing fundamental football better.”
2. Yes, there were some positive takeaways from this game.
“There’s a lot we liked,” Hoff said. “They didn’t quit fighting. They bought in to not caring about the scoreboard. We made them earn the drives. We had chances to get off the field, too, so now it’s about finishing on third down.” Hoff said it best. There weren’t very many chunk plays that the Eagles gave up on defense. The Mustangs' option offense was just on its game and was able to wear the Eagles down with repeated short yardage runs. Another bright spot was how good the young guys looked getting some playing time last night. A pair of freshmen in Kenai Greer and Johnny Salter got quite a few reps at running back, and both looked poised to be great athletes with time.
3. Jeffery “Chicago” Haynes.
Last season, Jamari Brown, now at Gardner Webb, was known as sort of the do-it-all guy for the Eagles. This season, it has already become clear that Mr. Haynes is going to be the guy they lean on to be the game breaker. Haynes started the night with a 44-yard touchdown reception from Cook where he basically just sped right past his defender. All three touchdowns from Eastside came from Haynes as he also had 96-yard kickoff return touchdown and another 15-yard touchdown grab. To top it off, he also had an interception right before halftime where he virtually ripped the ball out of the Ola receiver’s hands. If tonight was any indication of what’s to come for Haynes this season, we may be looking at a quite magical season for the senior.
4. Athletic Trainer, Felisha Quist, has been quite busy.
As previously mentioned, starting running back Terrence Reid has been dealing with an injury for most of the summer, and was held out of tonight’s game as a precaution. Right before halftime, Cook took a big helmet-to-helmet shot which forced him out for the rest of the game. She also spent time trying to help running back Ramon Hernandez nurse an ankle injury. If that sounds like a lot it's because it is. Hoff could not provide any updates to any of the guys who were injured, but noted that they are going to play it safe with them to make sure they are in the best possible condition before they step onto that field again. Hopefully the injury bug stays away for the rest of the season.
5. A rematch awaits, so it’s time to move on.
Yes, this loss is going to sting, and yes, people are going to be talking about this loss for many reasons. But the fact of the matter is this: The game at Ola was a non-region game against a Class AAAAA school that doesn’t count for much in the long run, as long as the team doesn’t dwell on it and maintains that bounce-back mentality. Next up Friday is the Newton Rams, whom the Eagles beat last season, 27-20 to even the all-time series at 7-7-1. With Newton coming off a 45-0 win against Alcovy in head coach Camiel Grant’s first career win, the Rams seem more motivated than ever to avenge last season’s loss and put Eastside in an 0-2 hole early in the season -- it would be the first 0-2 start to a season for Eastside since 2005. Hoff isn't dwelling on that, either.
“We just have to go back to work,” Hoff said. “You clear the slate. You look at the film and point-blank simple, you address those areas. I think they’re alright. Their heads are up. They just have to go to work and work on basic fundamental football.”