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Local teams face slate of key games
Tigers can wrap up home playoff game with win at Dutchtown
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The three high schools are all in action tonight for the first time in three weeks and while the opponents are different, the agenda is the same. Win. Certainly every football team wants to win every time out but for Eastside, Alcovy and Newton, a win tonight carries significant meaning.


Eastside looks to avoid first three-game skid in six years

The home game features two teams in the middle of the playoff hunt when Eastside takes on Stockbridge at 7:30 p.m. For the Eagles, a win is much needed as they've dropped two straight for the second time in as many years and fallen to fourth in the region standings. They lost to Drew 28-21 last Saturday and all of a sudden, what looked like a runner-up finish and home playoff game is now a fight for any playoff spot.

"Our kids have rebounded and had a good week of practice. I think we’ll come out ready to play," Eastside coach Rick Hurst said. "We're not worried about anything but this week. We're solely focused on Stockbridge. Once that's over, we'll get a week off and get some rest and put in some work. But we're not going to worry about playoffs until week 10 and then we'll decide what we need to do. Right now we have to beat a good Stockbridge team and that's all we're worried about."

The Eagles may not be looking too far ahead, but they are looking to put together a complete game


"It's a combination of things. It's execution and mental mistakes," Hurst said. "It's not effort. We need to cut down the mental mistakes — the missed assignments and those things. If we cut those down, we'll have a chance to win every game we play from here on out."

The Eagles have worked all week on sustaining drives and picking up positive gains on first down in order to avoid long second and third downs which have plagued them recently. The hope is they'll be able to preserve leads much like the one they lost to Sandy Creek in the heartbreaking 13-10 loss two weeks ago or score when trailing in a one-possession game late as was the case against Drew.

"We put in a new drill, we call it the finish drill, in last week after the Sandy Creek where we put the best of the best on defense and we have to get two first downs on offense," Hurst said. "If the offense gets it, the defense pays and if the defense stops it, the offense pays. We’re going to get two first downs to try and finish a game. That's been one of the issues the last couple of weeks."

The defense will be looking to rebound as well. After six stellar weeks in which the defense gave up just seven touchdowns, the Eagles were burned for two long scores last week and showed a bit of vulnerability against athletic teams. Stockbridge offers a similar challenge. Like Drew, they have speed and playmakers at the skill position. Eastside's defense will be tested again. It will be important for the offense to sustain drives and give the defense rest so it's fresh late in the game.

"I've heard Sheldon (Rankins) and Shaq (Huff) both talk this week about coming out and taking over this game," Hurst said. "They both had a big breakout game against this team last year and that really propelled us to four straight wins and a win in the first round. It's a huge game for the defense and they know that."

Offensively the Eagles won't change much as they'll again rely on Chavis Griggs and Jamondi Smith to run the ball while looking for opportunities to pass. Smith returned last week an added a much-needed spark as his speed allows him to get on the edge and pick up big chunks of yards when he gets into space. He showed that speed in two touchdown runs and is a welcome addition to Griggs' more physical, inside running approach.

Dante Blackmon turned in a solid effort a week ago and is still looking for that breakout game at wide receiver. Blackmon nearly broke a short pass over the middle into a long touchdown before he was wrapped up inside the 10-yard line, showing he has the speed to make things happen after the catch. He's Cameron Boyd's favorite target but the two have yet to develop that chemistry Blackmon and Califf Carnes had last year. Quan Moton, the Eagles' other wideout will miss the game with a knee injury so Blackmon should see even more targets come his way. Griggs has also been solid in the passing game on short to intermediate routes and screens over the middle and the Eagles have found some success throwing across the middle the past two weeks. Griggs and Blackmon are just two of several seniors hoping for a big game as they play in their final homecoming game as well.

"It's homecoming and our kids will play well because they know that," Hurst said. "This is their last homecoming here and it's always one you're going to remember as a senior. I think you'll see a ball team that will play well and good things will happen if we do."

The Eagles need a win and some help to get back into the hunt for the No. 2 seed. Something else to consider; the Eagles haven't lost three straight since going 0-10 in 2005, Hurst's first year at the helm.

"That’s something in the back of my mind," Hurst said. "I haven’t said anything to the players but it's definitely something in the back of mine and the coaches' minds for sure. We play a good football team that plays hard. They're going to come in here with a lot on the line too so it ought to be a great matchup."


Alcovy can wrap up home playoff game with win at Dutchtown

The Tigers look to take the next step in their 2011 revival tour with a win over Dutchtown that would secure a home state playoff game for the first time in school history and second state playoff berth overall. To do so, Alcovy must take down a Bulldog team fighting for its playoff life on homecoming night no less. To say the task won't be easy is an understatement. But it's certainly not impossible.

If the Tigers have shown anything this year it's to expect the unexpected. With five straight wins in their back pockets, they're playing with a renewed confidence not seen since 2009, the year they made the playoffs. To go a step further, Alcovy is playing with swagger. The Tigers don't feel like they're ever out of a game and their newfound offensive prowess gives them the ability to score quickly and in bunches.

Alcovy is coming off its best game of the season. They took down Jones County 44-28 at their house with first place in the subregion on the line on the strength of a record-setting performance by Devon Edwards. The senior running back rushed for 274 yards and three scores while catching two passes for 83 yards and a score and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for total yards from scrimmage with three games to play. Edwards also registered his first interception of the season, further making his case as the region’s best player in 2011.

The Tigers are expected to get quarterback Cornell White back after the junior missed last week's game with a shoulder injury. White's replacement Marcus Williams filled in nicely, throwing three touchdowns — two to Kenard Murry. With White, the Tigers are even more dangerous in the running game as he has breakaway speed and elusiveness to make things happen when protection breaks down.

One thing that has helped Alcovy and will certainly aid the Tigers tonight is their ability to bounce back. They held off a late charge from Griffin to win earlier this season and pulled even with Harris County on the road in the third quarter before a pair of mistakes cost them late. Last week the Tigers opened up a quick 21-0 lead in the first quarter only to watch Jones County roar back and tie the game. But the Tigers stayed aggressive and fired of a late flurry of touchdowns to pull away in the second half and win going away. Those types of performances should help them at Dutchtown as the Bulldogs are sure to be motivated on homecoming night, knowing a loss ends their playoff hopes.

These two teams are no strangers to each other. When both played in Region 4-AAAA in 2008-09, they split two matchups with each game deciding the other's playoff fate. While the Tigers were out of the playoff hunt when the two played last year, Dutchtown won 13-0. But both teams are used to facing the other with a lot on the line.


Rams face must-win to keep playoff hopes alive

Newton has one simple goal. Win or miss the playoffs for a second straight year. That'll be easier said than done; however, as the Rams visit M.L. King at Halford Stadium — a place they've never won.

By virtue of opening region play 0-3, the Rams have their backs against the wall. More troubling, last week's blowout loss to Stephenson showed how far the Rams need to improve against the region's elite athletic teams. And M.L. King is certainly one of them.

The majority of Newton's problems can be attributed to a struggling offense that is turning the ball over too frequently. Rams' quarterback Gmatreian Brown threw three interceptions and lost a fumble on a running play and has been prone to making mistakes, especially early in games. Against Newnan and Stephenson, Brown threw interceptions on Newton's opening drives when the Rams were moving the ball and threatening to score.

The Rams can ill-afford to make those types of mistakes against a Lions team that scores 34 points per game. Head coach Cortez Allen spoke of the importance of his team getting off to fast starts in the wake of last week's loss but each time out the past two weeks, turnovers have thwarted early momentum and deflated the Rams offensively.

If there is any saving grace for Newton it's that M.L. King gave up 42 points to Luella last week. Like Alcovy, the Rams will also have to contend with a team playing on its homecoming night. The best thing the Rams can do is score early and get a lead. Newton's defense plays better when it's ahead and can pin its ears back and make plays. Falling behind puts the Rams in passing mode and thus far, Brown and company haven't shown the ability to move the ball through the air consistently.

M.L. King will most certainly bring plenty of pressure on the quarterback. But one quick-hitter to Desean McKenzie or the revitalized Aaron Pierce, who had a breakout game last week, will at least make the Lions consider changing their coverage. An early lead also allows the Rams to run the ball with Javonte Williams. Getting those weapons involved early and often is Newton’s best chance at pulling off the upset and keeping their slim playoff hopes alive.

offensively and defensively. Last week, the offense had its moments but struggled to move the ball in the second half. That resulted in a worn down defense that played extended minutes for the second straight week and was visibly tired toward the end of the game.