RIVERDALE, Ga. — Before Troy Hoff ended Wednesday practice, he challenged his seventh-ranked Eastside squad to not overlook an overmatched opponent while playing in a short week and less-than-traditional Friday night lights atmosphere.
He told them to treat its trip to winless North Clayton as a business trip.
It did that and then some, while notching a 37-0 win over North Clayton Thursday night at Southern Crescent Stadium in a game that was cut short with just under four minutes left in the third quarter after a lightening delay.
“We told our guys you gotta get up for it,” Hoff said. “It’s a Thursday night and it’s a different atmosphere. Not making excuses, but we said it’s not going to be your home crowd. It’s not gonna be a normal week. But that said, I’m pleased with how we came out. The energy was good. Execution could be a little better in spots, but other than that, it was a good night.”
Coming into the game, Eastside’s junior quarterback Noah Cook came into Thursday night’s game ranked in the top 60 in the state, regardless of classification, in passing yards. He did nothing to hurt his cause after unofficially completing 10 of 11 passes for 251 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
The pick came toward the end of the second quarter, and appeared to result in a North Clayton touchdown, but a holding call negated the score.
Earlier in the game, Cook also lost a fumble, but Eastside’s defense was stalwart all night, holding North Clayton to just around 100 yards of total offense. The miscues, Hoff said, may have been symptomatic of the Eagles trying too hard to land an early knock-out blow.
“A few of those things in the first half, I think was just our guys trying to make too many plays,” Hoff said. “But we cleaned those things up and we played our football. (North Clayton) coach Cap (Burnett) has kids that play hard for him. They’re struggling a bit and have played some good competition. Those kids come out and take pride in what they’re doing, but I think we responded well.”
Eastside made quick work of North Clayton from the beginning. After a Cook fumble on the Eagles’ first offensive possession, Eastside got things straightened out after forcing a North Clayton punt.
Taylor Carter would put Eastside on the board first with a bulldozing 22-yard touchdown run where he trucked a pair of North Clayton defenders, giving Eastside a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game.
North Clayton had a little more success on its next possession, running six plays before the drive stalled. But when Eastside got the ball back, Cook went to the air again on the only two plays of the scoring drive. Both were pass to Colby Shivers, the first a 25 yarder and the latter, a 30-yard scoring strike that put Eastside ahead 14-0 at the 2:28 mark of the first quarter.
Hoff was high on Shivers who finished with four catches for 108 yards and two scores.
“He’s just a football player,” Hoff said. “Whatever you ask him to do, wherever you need him to be, he does it. He loves to play. He loves to compete. He plays baseball the same way and he works hard. Team captain and just a leader. I’m happy for him. He’s earning it.”
Before the first half ended, Carter would add a five-yard touchdown from the wildcat formation, and Cook would find Antavious Cobb on a beautifully executed jailbreak screen that put the Eagles up 27-0, then before the half was done, Cook found Shivers in the corner of the end zone on a perfect fade route, giving Eastside a 34-0 lead going into halftime.
In the third quarter, Cobb blocked a punt after the Eastside defense stalled out North Clayton’s first second half drive. Three plays later, Ezra King would connect on a 45-yard field goal to provide the final margin just before the weather delay forced an early end to things.
Eastside’s win was its third straight over North Clayton, and it helped the Eagles improve to 4-0 for the first time since 2008. Now Hoff and company will have another bye week before coming back to another Thursday night Region 4-AAAA clash, this time back at home in Sharp Stadium against Luella (1-2). After that, a pair of back-to-back highly anticipated matchups at Woodward Academy and at home against Salem.
Hoff said he has some mixed feelings about taking another break so soon after the first, but he’s confident his guys are mature enough to handle it the right way.
“Preferably we’d like to string about three more games together and then have another (bye), but it’s just kind of the way the region shook out this year,” Hoff said. “It’s not a bad time, because you play a stretch run where we have a couple big games coming out of that bye week. So I like our preparation. I like our focus. They’ve showed they can handle that and not take days off, so I look at it as an opportunity for us to get better and really not just prepare for the next week, but for three or four weeks down the road.”