COVINGTON, Ga. — Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
An undefeated, top-10-ranked Eastside football team will lock horns with an uber athletic opponent that overcame a couple of early-season losses to produce an undefeated Region 4-AAAA record in a game that could decide the region championship.
If it feels like you read something similar around this time last week, it’s because you did. For the second straight week, Eastside will face a team that, just like the Eagles, can control its own destiny in the Region 4-AAAA race.
Last week it was Woodward Academy. This week, the Salem Seminoles. Coach Troy Hoff stated that getting his team focused and ready for the Seminoles wasn’t hard. In fact, in many ways the process was similar to getting them ready to play against Woodward last Friday.
Of course we know how that turned out. Eastside walked out of College Park with a satisfying 38-31 win. Tonight we’ll see if the Eagles can notch another big win that will get them closer to their first region crown since winning back-to-back region championships in the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
The Matchup: Salem Seminoles (4-2, 3-0) at No. 7 Eastside Eagles (6-0 3-0). Salem owns a 6-2 record all time against Eastside. But all six of those wins came before coach Troy Hoff and Salem coach Jarrett Laws were at the helm of their respective programs and before both teams were paired in Region 4-AAAA. Since those two variables have come into play, Eastside has had Salem’s number.
Eastside is off to its best start in 10 years. Meanwhile, Salem, after a 22-16 season opening win against Heritage-Conyers, dropped a pair to a highly regarded Coffee team on the road and Alcovy before bouncing back for three straight wins against Hampton, Henry County and Druid Hills.
The When and Where: Friday October 12, 7:30 p.m. at Sharp Stadium, Covington.
The Key Players: Salem may be every bit as talented and explosive as Woodward Academy is, and we saw how difficult it was for Eastside to corral that explosiveness, particularly in the first half. Salem may not have an individual player as dominant as Woodward’s Tahj Gary, but it may have a greater balance of talent throughout the roster. Dual threat senior quarterback Donald Wilson is playing his best ball of his career, completing 71 percent of his passes for over 1,300 yards. He’s got three top-notch receivers to throw to in Tyler Smith, Makari Pruitt and Lennox Bowie. Tailbacks Omarius Burnam and freshman Willis Sheppard, III give Salem balance in the run game. Defensively Artemus McCorkle, Keevan Bailey and Brad Plunkett head up a talented defensive secondary.
For Eastside, the usual playmaking suspects are running back Taylor Carter, receiver/defensive back Jamari Brown and quarterback Noah Cook. But each week it seems a few new playmakers show up. Lately Quincy Cullins has been one of those playmakers. And he’s doing it on both sides of the field, as Eastside’s second leading rusher and an increasingly aggressive defender. Jaylen Atlow has been solid defensively, and we can’t forget about special teams. Eastside’s got a field goal kicker in Kade Mote who has great range and a pair of punters in Ezra King and Dalton Whitley who can routinely flip the field.
Salem wins…If it can start fast, force Eastside into uncharacteristic mistakes, use them to score and grab an early lead while withstanding the Eagles’ typical second half surge. The first part was a formula that worked well for Woodward in the first two quarters of last week’s game. The last part, not so much.
Eastside wins…If it can make Salem one dimensional. The ‘Notes are an excellent passing team, but they use their run game to set up the pass. Eastside’s ability to take the run game out of the equation should bode well for their chances of winning. Additionally, the Eagles will want to start as fast in the first half as they’re known for doing in the second.
The Prediction: Eastside knows its on the cusp of having a really special season. Many Salem will be the last legitimate team to hand Eastside a loss in the regular season. But it’s safe to say the Eagles really aren’t stressing on the rest of the season much. Hoff’s business-like approach has carried over to shape his team’s overall personality. And because of that, in addition to what should be an energetic home crowd, we think the Eagles will prevail once again, but it sure won't be easy. Score: Eastside 35, Salem 24.