*Note: Watch the above video for full postgame reaction from Eastside coach Troy Hoff.
COVINGTON, Ga. — Total dominance was the theme in Saturday’s capper of three consecutive nights of football at Homer Sharp Stadium. And it was the Eastside Eagles who were the carriers of that theme.
Eastside flexed its muscles early and often, rolling up well over 400 yards of total offense in a 50-6 route of Region 4-AAAA foe, Luella Saturday night.
Sophomore quarterback Noah Cook got his first start Saturday, instead of senior Brayden Harper, who was thought for much of the offseason to be the heir apparent to graduated three-year starter, Austin Holloway.
But Eastside offensive coordinator, Jay Cawthon said that as the season came closer, he started to see a two-for-one deal he couldn’t pass up.
“We just saw where Noah was really playing well, and we felt that Brayden was just too valuable to not have out there as receiver,” Cawthon said. “Noah played well in the scrimmage last week, and we saw there wasn’t much drop off between the two at quarterback.”
The move put Harper back in his slot receiver spot where he starred as a junior, on his way to being a 2016 All-Region selection. And Cook looked solid and composed beyond his years, skillfully distributing the ball to playmakers like Harper, junior wideout, Jamari Brown and Jerry Mays.
Cook finished with close to 200 yards passing and two scores — one a scoring toss, and the other a 3-yard quarterback keeper — while Harper snagged five of those passes for gains of 11 yards or more.
“I like the way Cook played tonight,” Eastside head coach Troy Hoff said after the game. “He played with poise, and really I like how our whole team came out with the energy they had from the beginning to the end.”
Both Eastside and Luella came into the game losing lots of talent from 2016 teams that went to the playoffs. But early on it was Eastside getting all over the Lions in the first half, despite Luella drawing first blood with a score.
That score happened when Luella quarterback Jaelen Campbell found Reginald Temple down field for a 45-yard touchdown at the 8:36 mark in the first quarter to give Luella a 6-0 lead after a missed two-point conversion attempt.
It marked the third straight game during the home opening stretch where an opponent of a Newton County school scored first, as both Drew and Duluth tallied the scoreboard before Newton and Alcovy respectively.
But just like its two other county mates, the Eagles would respond quickly and often.
Thanks to Brown’s 84-yard return on the ensuing kickoff, the Eagles’ first offensive drive of the season began on Luella’s 16 yard line. Two plays later, it was Jordan Rogers finding Harper on a little hitch route that Harper would turn into a 16-yard touchdown catch, putting the Eagles ahead 7-6 with a successful extra point try.
After consecutive three-and-outs by both teams, Eastside would strike again, and quickly. Taylor Carter capped a four play, 48-yard drive with a two yard touchdown run, that was set up by passes of 28 and 12 yards from Cook to Harper. Carter’s run extended Eastside’s lead to 13-6.
The Eagles defense stalled out another Luella drive, and then Cook went to work again on offense, completing passes of 11, 15 and 22 yards to Jamari Brown, Harper and Jerry Mays respectively. That set up Carter’s six-yard stroll into the end zone, giving Eastside a 20-6 lead with 9:39 left in the first half.
Eastside wasn’t done, though. The defense came up big again, this time with Brown stepping in front of Campbell’s pass at the 50 yard line and returning it 20 yards.
Two runs from Shamar Hunter — one of 27 yards and the other from three yards out — pushed Eastside into the end zone one more time, making it 28-6, Eastside with a Rogers two-point conversion run.
The Eagles kept pouring it on when two drives later, Cook engineered a 10-play, 54-yard drive, highlighted by completions of 33 and 14 yards to Harper, and finished off by Cook himself with that aforementioned 3-yard quarterback keeper.
Eastside would score once more before the half after recovering a fumbled kickoff, but this time the offense was generated by the running game. On the last drive of the half, Rockdale transfer Tyon Davis rushed for 21 yards, followed by a 12-yard pick up Carter. Davis punctuated the drive by barreling his way in from 11 yards out, running over a defender in the process, and receiving a crushing block of a Luella linebacker from South Carolina commit, Lamarius Benson. The score gave Eastside a 44-6 halftime lead.
Because of the lopsided score, the second half featured a running clock and opportunities for reserves and members of the junior varsity squad to get in meaningful game time snaps.
The final score of the night would come from freshman Quincy Collins’ three-yard touchdown run.
The win gave Eastside a 1-0 record overall and in Region 4-AAAA to start the season. Now the attention will turn to next Friday as the always intense county rivalry between Eastside and Newton will take center stage. Newton also started its season with a victory, defeating Drew 39-24 at Sharp Stadium on Thursday night.
Last year, the two teams played to a 41-41 tie, due to the fact that non-region games are not required to go to overtime after regulation.
The all-time series between the two schools is completely deadlocked at 6-6-1. Kickoff for next Friday’s matchup is slated for 7:30 p.m.