COVINGTON, Ga. — Mother nature strikes again.
After three and a half days of rain pelted Sharp Stadium, along with the rest of metro Atlanta, tonight’s second round Class AAAA playoff game between No. 4 Eastside and Burke County will literally feature two teams that have to go on the road.
The game has moved to Social Circle’s stadium. Same 7:30 p.m. kickoff time. Same designation of Eastside as the home team. But because Social Circle’s artificial turf playing surface is better equipped to handle the downpour than Sharp Stadium’s natural grass, well, here we are.
Making such an impromptu move to another facility, no doubt, raises lots of question marks about the atmosphere of tonight’s game. The stadium is definitely newer and nicer than Eastside’s traditional home digs. But seating and parking is not as plenteous. And there’s always a natural adjustment when you venture into something new.
One thing you can probably count on is that Eastside coach, Troy Hoff will have his troops ready for the battle, regardless of whether it’s played on turf or in the parking lot. This is an incredibly focused Eastside team, and has been all year. It will play a solid Burke County opponent for the chance to move on to the quarterfinals, likely in against No. 1 Blessed Trinity.
But first things first. Let’s break down tonight’s second round action.
The Matchup: Burke County (8-3) at No. 4 Eastside (11-0). Both squads opened the playoffs with solid tests, and will come into tonight’s game teeming with confidence. Burke County’s 28-22 win against Howard last night brought them to this point, while Eastside pushed past a scrappy, stubborn Hardaway team, winning 41-23. While the Eagles haven’t lost since 2017, Burke County bounced back from an 0-2 start to rip off eight wins in their last nine games.
The When and Where: Friday Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m. at Social Circle High School, 154 Alcova Drive., Social Circle, Georgia.
The Key Players: Ground and pound is going to be the name of the game when Burke County is on offense. The Bears make no bones about the fact that they want to run the ball. They’ve passed it for less than 1,000 yards on the season, but when they have, junior quarterbacks, Juanya Dove and Michael Johnson have been decently efficient. Neither have a high completion percentage, but they haven’t thrown a tone of interceptions, either.
Dove is the team’s second leading rusher with close to 700 yards on the ground and four rushing scores while averaging about six yards per touch. But junior tailback, Leon McGee is the workhorse with 877 yards through nine games and 18 rushing touchdowns. But you could also see Chad Crumbley and Makail Roberson get plenty of touches.
Defensively, Burke County is an opportunistic unit that specializes in baiting an offense into making bad decisions that create turnovers. Hoff has said that it could be the fastest defense in terms of overall team speed that Eastside will have seen all season.
Eastside should have the advantage in the passing game with Noah Cook continuing assert himself as a leader. He needs just 205 passing yards to eclipse the 2,000 for the season, and he’s completing passes at a 69 percent clip with 24 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
Meanwhile, Taylor Carter needs just 43 yards to break 1,000. Sophomores Quincy Cullins and Terrence Reid help ensure that Eastside will be able to run the ball in various ways against Burke.
But the biggest matchup will be to see how Eastside manages the trenches. As stated, Burke County wants to be physical and push you around. Eastside’s linemen are a bit undersized, but that hasn’t stopped them all season for being an aggressive, penetrating bunch.
Guys like Tomarkus Woods, Jaylen Atlow and Hunter Williams will have to step up to help control the line of scrimmage. Linebackers and safeties may be needed for run defense support.
Eastside wins…If it doesn’t allow the weird, rain-soaked week to be a distraction, and if it can find ways to make Burke County quarterbacks beat them with their arms instead of their legs.
Burke County wins…If it can control the line of scrimmage on offense by firmly establishing its run game and be fast to the corners and edges on defense, forcing Eastside, offensively, to stay between the tackles and resort only to a vertical passing game.
The Prediction: This is a tough one to call. You can’t go by records alone. Burke County, located 30 miles south of Augusta, is one of those schools that comes to mind when you think about rural Georgia football powers. It hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2006 and has won six region titles and a state championship (2011) during that time frame. The task will be tall. But I believe Eastside is playing at a different level this year, and with a home crowd rallying it, will find away to pull out a nail biter that could come down to the final play. Score: Eastside 28, Burke County 24.
What’s Next: The winner of this game will face either No. 1 Blessed Trinity or North Oconee. By virtue of the universal coin toss, if Eastside wins, it will host the quarterfinals game next Friday at Sharp Stadium…provided it doesn’t rain for three days and three nights.