COVINGTON, Ga. -- Football season is back. Okay, so it was just high school’s version of the preseason. But still, football is football, right?
And let’s not fake the funk. It felt good to have the Friday Night Lights of Sharp Stadium turned on once again. It wouldn’t have mattered if it were a little league opponent Eastside was facing, it still would’ve been an attraction. And boy was it.
If you didn’t know Friday night’s Eastside-Walnut Grove game was a scrimmage, by the looks of the crowd — on both the home and visitor sides — it would’ve made you believe we were in midseason form already.
By the time kickoff was upon us, the hot sun was in retreat mode, and dusk gave way to a pretty comfortable atmosphere. I think we may have even detected a little bit of a breeze.
As for the actual football itself, well, it was a 50-0 win for Eastside against an overmatched Walnut Grove bunch that’s still finding its way under head coach Robert Jones, now heading into his second year at the school.
For Eastside fans, it was a chance to get a good first glimpse at the defending Region 4-AAAA champions who were playing with a good mix of familiar faces and seasoned playmakers.
I, along with a portion of our CovNewsSports staff, took in the action Friday night, and here are five things we learned from the win.
1. Jeffery Haynes is going to be fun to watch. And that will likely be true for him on both sides of the ball. But Friday night, he starred as a receiver. He opened the scoring for Eastside when he beat man coverage and grabbed a touchdown pass from Noah Cook — a 45 yarder — to give Eastside a 7-0 lead at the 9:32 mark of the first quarter. Then he snagged a 64-yard scoring strike from Jalen Woods (more on him in a moment) midway through the second quarter. Don’t be surprised to see Haynes regularly winning one-on-one battles against cornerbacks this season, as he’ll likely be among the fastest — if not the fastest — players on the field on any given Friday. And don’t be surprised to see a heavy dosage of that Cook-to-Haynes connection. It seems to be shaping to be a breakout year for the speedy senior.
2. Jaylen Woods could be a suitable back up for Noah Cook when he’s not being a solid pass catcher. You came into this game expecting the Eagles to pretty much run their starters for the first half and backups for the second. That’s pretty much what happened. We got a good look at senior quarterback Noah Cook who threw for 79 yards and two scores. But what truly impressed was his backup, junior Jaylen Woods. His first eye-popping play wasn’t from behind center though. As Eastside was driving for its second touchdown of the game, Woods leaped above a couple of Walnut Grove defenders to pull down a high pass from Cook. It was a thing of beauty. Offensive coordinator Jay Cawthon said the 6-foot-1 Woods reminds him of Jerry Mays. Mays, who graduated this past spring, was a regular playmaker for Eastside on offense, defense and special teams.
But Woods’ added dimension is quarterback. Later in the game, he spelled Cook and performed very admirably, perhaps throwing one of the best passes of the night when he hooked up with Haynes on a 64-yard scoring strike that found Haynes in stride. Of course, nobody wants Cook to go down, and Eastside coaches no doubt would rather see Woods catching passes from Cook more than throwing them this year. But if needed, Woods seems to have the skills and disposition to get the job done.
3. Sharp Stadium’s scoreboard is a nice touch. The addition of a new digital scoreboard in Sharp with all sorts of bells, whistles and graphics capabilities was pretty cool to see. The players were able to show off their own animations. Each athlete and cheerleader was introduced on the board. It gave Sharp a nice, “next-level” look. Next up, a turf field.
4. The trenches look strong. Coming into this season, our staff has repeatedly remarked that Eastside’s offensive line looks like it can be a team strength. Beyond the fact that four returning starters are there — which alone is good news — this could be one of the biggest offensive lines Eastside’s had in recent memory. With a stable of young running backs such as sophomores Ramon Hernandez, Sincere Johnson and Dallas Johnson to go along junior Terrence Reid, a stout o-line will definitely benefit Cook and the Eagles’ offense.
5. New-look defense looks fast. Some of you may have had to keep peaking at the roster to see some of the new faces on Eastside’s defense. Don’t feel bad. The Eagles have basically had to overhaul its front seven, including an entirely new corps of linebackers. Playmakers like Jamari Brown and Dalton Whitley are gone which gives others a chance to shine. But even if you didn’t know their names, you could clearly see their effort, hustle and aggressiveness was in place. Eastside regularly flew to the ball all night — albeit against an overmatched opponent — and looked just as intense on that side of the ball as its been the last couple of years. It may take a few weeks for the new unit to gel, but once it does, it could become every bit as stingy as the last several defensive squads have been.