COVINGTON, Ga. — Right now, many Eastside football fans — and Newton County fans as a whole — are in a tizzy about the idea of the Eagles becoming the first team in county history to finish a regular season in football undefeated.
Eastside coach Troy Hoff isn’t one of those people, however.
As the fifth-ranked Eagles have seemingly cleared some of its tallest hurdles toward a Region 4-AAAA championship and unblemished regular season record — namely Woodward Academy and Salem — there’s still way too much football to be played and too many yet-to-be-met goals ahead for Hoff to start waxing nostalgic about what his team’s been able to accomplish so far.
“It’s one of those things where, if we do it and after the season maybe, we’ll look back on it and be able to think of it a little more,” Hoff said. “But right now, all of that really doesn’t mean much of anything. We still have a couple of teams left on our schedule who are hungry, have some good players and will be looking to give us their best shot. We still have a lot of business to take care of, starting with Henry County.”
Indeed, the Warhawks (3-5, 3-2) come into tonight’s game trying to hold off Hampton — Eastside’s opponent next week — to maintain that fourth and final playoff spot.
Meanwhile, Eastside simply needs a win against Henry County, or a Salem loss to Luella, to clinch its first region crown since they did it in back-to-back seasons in 2008-2009 while Rick Hurst was still at the helm.
Here’s a breakdown of tonight’s action.
The Matchup: Henry County (3-5, 3-2) at No. 5 Eastside Eagles (8-0 5-0). Eastside is 4-2 against Henry County in the two schools’ all-time series, and it has recorded three straight wins against the Warhawks, scoring no less than 32 points in the three meetings since being paired up in Region 4-AAAA.
The When and Where: Friday October 26, 7:30 p.m. at Sharp Stadium, Covington.
The Key Players: It’s not hyperbole or kind coachspeak when Hoff says Henry County has some athletes and playmakers, particularly on offense that “scare us a bit.” Henry County’s quarterback, senior Jaylon West, is one whom Hoff calls a true dual threat. He’s passed for over 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns and has proven to be an admirable threat in the quarterback run game.
Kyle Dennis and Javarus High have been playmakers with yards-per-carry averages north of six yards, and wideouts Orri Roberts and Terence Taylor have combined for almost 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.
Eastside’s staff of playmakers has been pretty balanced this season, but junior quarterback Noah Cook (1,276 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, three interceptions and 73% completion rate) and senior running back Taylor Carter (931 all-purpose yards and 10 total touchdowns) have been taken the lion’s share of the offensive firepower.
Defensively, the Eagles’ secondary has become a ball-hawking, turnover-producing unit with three players, Jeff Haynes, Antavious Cobb and AJ Royal) with two interceptions apiece. Add in Jamari Brown’s pick with a team-leading five pass deflections, it’s been downright difficult for teams to pass effectively against Eastside.
Also, don’t overlook the fact that Eastside has perhaps the area’s best performers in the kicking game with junior punter Ezra King averaging 35.3 yards per punt with five punts pinned inside the 20-yard line to his credit. Meanwhile, Kade Mote is 6-of-10 on field goals with a long of 44 yards. King’s only field goal attempt this season was good from 45.
Henry County wins…If Eastside plays an uncharacteristically unfocused ballgame and allows Henry county’s speedy wideouts to get behind them defensively. Henry will need some help from Eastside in terms of turnovers as well.
Eastside wins…If it can lock down Roberts and Taylor and make Henry County one dimensional. Eastside’s also shown a penchant for forcing turnovers on defense and turning those into points, which is one reason why its averaging a region-leading 40 points per game.
The Prediction: Expect Henry County to make some big plays, especially in the beginning of the game. But expect Eastside’s business-like approach to keep it dialed in on its one-game-at-a-time mindset that its seemingly perfected during this potentially magical season. Score: Eastside 42, Henry County 20.