Perennial state power Griffin rolled into Homer Sharp Stadium Friday night. And though Eastside gave them all they could handle, in the end it was too much Malik Miller and too much Bears defense as they defeated the Eagles 48-28 on the first really chilly night of the football season.
With the victory, Griffin improved to a perfect 10-0 on the season, 8-0 in Region 4-AAAA. Eastside dropped to 6-4 on the campaign, 4-4 in region play.
“I can’t ask for more effort from our guys,” Eastside coach Rick Hurst said. “We did exactly what we talked about this week. We played like we’re capable of playing. We got beat by a good football team, but we played our (rears) off. Our coaches did a great job of putting a plan together, and I can’t say any more about what we did tonight. I’m extremely proud of our guys.”
Eastside came out swinging, scoring on a 36-yard pass play from sophomore quarterback Austin Holloway to senior wideout Evan House with 3:06 gone in the first period. The point-after was good, and the Eagles led 7-0.
Griffin moved the ball on it’s first possession, with most of the heavy work being done by all-state running back Malik Miller, who ran for 305 yards on 32 carries. But sophomore quarterback Tylan Morton was intercepted by the Eagles Hart Micah and the Eastside took over on its 15-yard line.
From there, it only took one play for senior running back Carlos Huggins (16 carries, 209 yards), to run 85 yards to pay dirt. On the play, Huggins took the handoff, cut left, followed a block, cut back to the right and was off to the races as he ran untouched for the score. Kicker Jake Shelton added the extra point, and Eastside led 14-0 with 7:23 to play in the first period.
Griffin answered on its next possession when a scrambling Morton found senior Keyston Fuller for a 52-yard scoring strike at the 6:05 mark of the period. Kicker Logan Worley missed the point after, but the Bears had cut the lead to 14-6.
Once again, it only took one play for the Eagles to find the end zone as sophomore receiver Josh Sims took the ball out of a Bears defensive back’s hands and ran 60 yards to extend Eastside’s lead to 21-6 with 5:51 to play in the quarter.
A block in the back by Griffin on the ensuing kickoff backed the Bears up to their own 10-yard line. But, the long field just let Miller add to his stats.
Miller ran for 18, 27 and 29 yards in the series and culminated the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run off right guard to make the score 21-12 Eagles at the 1:49 mark of the quarter (a two-point conversion failed).
From that point, the Bears flexed their considerable defensive muscles. They forced a three-and-out, and a poor Eagles punt gave Griffin the ball on Eastside’s 31.
Miller showed of his passing skills on the first play as he tossed a 31-yard halfback option score to Fuller (7 catches, 136 yards, two TDs) to make it 21-18. Morton found Fuller for the two-point conversion, and the Eagles lead was cut to one with 39 seconds to play in the first.
Eastside got the ball and ran three plays before the quarter ended with the Eagles clinging to a one-point lead.
Griffin, again, forced a punt, and took over on offense at its 18-yard line. Three plays later, senior receiver Chris Owens, who has committed to play at Georgia, made a spectacular one-handed catch of a Morton pass and ran 53 yards for the touchdown. Miller ran for the two-point conversion, and the Bears took the lead for good 28-21 with 9:44 left in the first half.
Both teams played solid defense the rest of the quarter, and the teams went into the locker room with the score remaining 28-21.
Griffin received the second-half kickoff, and it was the Malik Miller show as he gained all 88 yards and scored on a 53-yard run with 2:30 gone in the third quarter. Worley’s PAT was good, and the Bears extended their lead to 35-21.
Eastside had two more possessions in the third quarter; the first was another three-and-out, and on its second possession, Shelton hit the right upright on a failed field-goal try.
The quarter ended with Griffin leading 35-21.
Griffin added another touchdown on a 16-yard Morton pass to Owens, who had Eagles defenders draped all over him, to make the score 41-21 (PAT missed) with 6:48 to play in the game.
Eastside was not done, however, as it drove 85 yards on seven plays for a score. The big play was a 62-yard scamper by Huggins that took the ball to the Bears 12-yard line. Three plays and a Bears unsportsmanlike penalty later, Holloway found Huggins for a six-yard scoring play to cut the Griffin lead to 41-28 with 3:49 to play.
Eastside tried an on-side kick, but Bears cornerback Montavious Brown fielded the ball and ran 50 yards for the touchdown and a 48-28 lead.
Eastside had one more possession, but were forced to punt after three downs.
From there, the Bears lined up in the victory formation and secured the Region 4-AAAA championship 48-28.
The good news, though, is that Eastside is in the state playoffs.
“There’s 32 teams left, and we’re one of them,” coach Hurst said. “A lot of teams are putting their stuff (game gear) up tomorrow, but we’re playing on. So, that’s awesome.”
Eastside will host Thompson (4-6, 2-2 in Region 3-AAAA) Friday at Sharp Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.