For the first time in four years, this space is being used to write about Eastside in a different way. Usually it’s a playoff game story. After the Eagles failed to make it to the postseason, it’s about what went wrong in 2011.
Pinpointing the defining moment for a football team’s demise is often difficult. Looking back at Eastside’s season, it’s actually quite easy. Coaches hate to use injuries as an excuse but you could certainly make the case they had an adverse effect on the Eagles from day one.
The season started ominously when starting running back Alex Smith broke his wrist on the first play of the year. Smith broke it while trying to plant his hand on a short run and spent the rest of the year as a cast-wearing spectator from the sidelines. Without their toughest and most seasoned running back, the Eagles were forced to go with plan B. Plan B was OK until Jamondi Smith and Nick Broadwater went down too. As the season wore on, more players fell to injury and it all culminated with the loss of Sheldon Rankins to a broken leg with two games left to play. Eastside won the first of those but Rankins’ absence was never more glaring than against Henry County in the season finale.
Injuries weren’t the only factor. The Eagles were inconsistent on offense and at some times looked dreadful. The transition from Califf Carnes to Cameron Boyd at quarterback didn’t go well and by season’s end, sophomore Demario Terrell was calling the plays.
The turning point came against Sandy Creek. At that point Eastside was 4-1 and undefeated in region play. They led the Patriots late in the game, and by late we’re talking about with a shade over a minute to play, but a miracle touchdown pass wiped away perhaps Eastside’s best-played defensive game ever.
The loss stung. What was worse, it had a lingering effect. The Eagles came out flat the next week against Drew and spotted them a big-play touchdown early and never were able to recover. Things turned from bad to worse the next week at home against Stockbridge and the Eagles lost their third straight to fall to 3-3 in region play.
What was supposed to be the culmination of a great defensive team leading the Eagles on a state title run turned out to be a disappointing season. The Eagles have made playing playoff football a Thanksgiving tradition. That tradition took a season off this year. The question is, will it be back next year?
Perhaps 2011 wasn’t a lost season. Eastside coaches think they may have found a quarterback in Terrell. Sure they lose Rankins and Shaquille Huff to graduation but Antonius Sims came on to become a very good defensive lineman. Jamondi Smith showed he’s explosively talented and Broadwater gave coaches a glimpse of what he can do. With Alex Smith healthy, Eastside’s offense will be able to move the ball on the ground.
Maybe more than anything Eastside gets a fresh start next year. This team went through a lot and had its fair share of success. But the chemistry just wasn’t there. For whatever reason, this year’s team didn’t gel like teams past. That played as big a role in Eastside’s demise as anything when you get down to it.
Will the Eagles be back as a playoff contender in 2012? Conventional wisdom suggests they will. It’s only fair to give the program the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. That won’t make anyone at Eastside feel any better about this season. But it should make everyone hungrier than ever. Even if their bellies are full of turkey.