COVINGTON, Ga. — The new kids on the block almost took down the defending champions last week.
Playing in their third Region 8-AAAAAA game, Eastside came just shy of knocking off Clarke Central on the road Friday night. The Eagles showed no signs of being intimated by the moment early on and carried a 24-14 lead over the Gladiators — the reigning region title holders — into the locker room.
But Clarke Central stormed back. The Gladiators pounded the rock on the ground, and completed a few timely pass plays over the top, to squeak out a 35-34 victory on homecoming night. The win allowed the Athens squad to retain its place as the top team in league standings.
“I’m proud of our kids for giving us a shot to win. Clarke Central just made a few more plays than we did,” Eastside head coach Troy Hoff said after the loss.
Hoff and his staff understand one of the essential keys to success is having a short memory. Consequently, after watching film and addressing areas in which they need to improve, the Eagles put the loss to bed and turned their attention to Week 8.
“We had a team meeting on Sunday and basically said everything’s still in front of us,” Hoff said. “We’ve got another great opportunity to go on the road to another region opponent that’s in the same position we are. It’s a quick turnaround, and I think that’s good for us.”
On tap for Eastside (4-2, 2-1) this week is a trip to Loganville (2-3, 1-1).
The Red Devils are led at the helm by first-year head coach Brad Smith. They opened the year with a thrilling victory over Walton County rival Monroe Area (21-20) but hit a bit of turbulence before snapping out of a three-game slide last Friday by beating up on winless Johnson (59-0).
The two programs are quite familiar with one another, having previously shared a region before being grouped together again this year. In 12 all-time meetings, the Eagles hold a 7-5 advantage.
Collecting win No. 8 will be no small task for Eastside this week.
“They present some challenges with their skill kids, and they’ve got good size on the lines,” Hoff said of Loganville. “They have a defensive end that is right up there with anybody we’ve played. He might be the most explosive lineman we’re going to see as far as getting off the ball. So they provide you with some challenges you definitely have to account for.”
Loganville has explosiveness along the defensive line, but Eastside’s offensive line has proven to be ready for anything thrown its way thus far. The Eagles rushed for 337 yards as a team on Friday, continuing a trend that’s lasted over half the season of establishing dominance in the power run game.
“I really feel like we’ve seen the offensive line get better every week. With six games under their belt, you’re starting to see them communicating better, playing together,” Hoff said. “And as they go as a unit, we go as an offense. There’s no doubt about it.”