Despite cold weather at Walnut Grove, Eastside’s offense came out hot and rode the arm of junior quarterback Austin Holloway all the way to victory. Holloway tossed three touchdowns in the first half, two went to Josh Sims and another went to Eric Stokes, as Holloway finished with five scores total as the Eagles flew past the Warriors, 36-19.
“Great team effort. I’ve got a great coaching staff — week-in, week-out putting these kids in a great position. When they buy in to it the way they have and play as hard as they do and tonight, put the execution with it, it’s fun to watch,” Eagles coach Troy Hoff, Eagle said.
The Eagles’ defense wouldn’t let the Warriors get their running game going and when Walnut Grove tried to go to the air, a stout defensive line was there to meet them as the Eagles dropped the quarterback three times in the first half, two of those Eastside sacks were by Johnny Mickens. The defense was excellent as a whole especially in the first half, as they allowed just one score and of Walnut Grove’s six possessions, they punted on four and three were three-and-outs.
“Great pressure all night as a group. The guy that gets the sacks has to count on the other guys too because they’re eating up blockers and a lot of times the linebackers were bringing the blitz and forced him one way,” Hoff said. “Again, we’ve talked about that before. Anytime you can get up and make them one-dimensional – we thought we could bring some pressure on ‘em so great effort. Pass rush is tough when you get tired and you’re doing it all night. Those guys kept doing it all night.”
The secondary, led by Davin Griffieth and Caleb Allen, backed up a great effort from the Eastside defensive line on the night.
“That allows us to be more aggressive up front. When you trust the back end to cover effectively whether it’s man or zone that frees up the front- guys to run,” Hoff said.
Eastside’s first drive was capped off with two consecutive Holloway/Sims connections, one a 24-yard catch-and-run on a screen play and the other was the 33-yard touchdown that gave Eastside a 6-0 lead after a failed two-point conversion.
After a Walnut Grove three-and-out, the Eagles scored again after starting at the Walnut Grove 33-yard line. Holloway hit Sims for eight yards and the score to give Eastside a 13-0 lead. The Warriors picked up their first first down of the night on the ensuing drive but were forced to punt.
Eastside had nothing going so they punted for the first time all night, but the punt was high and over the head of Juwan Gibbs who was able to go back, pick the ball up and get the punt off, but it was slightly blocked and caught by a Walnut Grove player who was tackled at the EHS 39-yard line. The Warriors took advantage and drove 39 yards for a five-yard rushing touchdown on the 10th play of the drive.
The Eagles scored two more times going into halftime with a 32-yard pass from Holloway to Stokes on a wheel route that found Stokes wide open and on a field goal by freshman Kade Mote late in the half to head into halftime with a 23-7 lead.
Holloway and co. opened the half with a nine-play 61-yard drive that ended on a four-yard pass from Holloway to Anthony Brown to extend the Eagles lead to 29-7 after another failed two-point conversion.
After another three-and-out, the Eagles marched back down field and Holloway finished the drive with an eight-yard run to give Eastside a 36-7 lead.
The Warriors found life and returned the ensuing kickoff back for a touchdown to bring the score to 36-13. The Eagle’s defense held for the rest of the night, except for one drive late in the fourth when Walnut Grove scored to make the final score 36-19.
“Yeah, they pushed us on that last drive,” Hoff said when asked if he felt his team had finally played the full 48 minutes of a game. “We were rotating some guys, but yeah for the most part. [We] got in control, took care of the football, ran the ball effectively, controlled the clock and the tempo so yes definitely,”
Holloway finished 15/20 with 195 yards passing and four touchdowns through the air with 10 yards rushing and one TD on the ground. Sims benefitted from most of Holloway’s targets as he finished with five catches for 106 yards with two TDs.
“He’s as hard on himself as anybody and he feels like if it isn’t perfect that he puts a lot on himself,” Hoff said in regard to Holloway’s performance. “That’s just a kid that wants to make every play and he’s never met a play that he doesn’t think he can’t make, and sometimes it gets him in trouble, but more times than not you see what you did tonight where he’s a playmaker.”
With the victory, Eastside will play Griffin next week at home in a “win or go home” game, with the victor advancing to the playoffs and the loser, ending their season.
“We’ve seen a lot of each other the last two years. Good football team, very athletic, proud tradition. I think they’ve got a 15-year playoff run on the line so we’re gonna face a great football team that’s gonna be coming in ready for a war,” Hoff said. “Our guys are excited. They love playing at home. They know what’s at stake, they know who it is I think they’re excited for the opportunity.”