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PREP FOOTBALL: Eastside secures home playoff game after rout of North Clayton
Brayden Harper
Lamarius Benson lifts Eastside quarterback Brayden Harper in celebration after one of Harper's three touchdowns in Saturday's 38-14 win over North Clayton. - photo by Anthony Banks

COVINGTON, Ga. — The Eastside Eagles ensured that there would be at least one more football game at Sharp Stadium this season, thanks to their 38-14 romp over North Clayton Saturday night.  

In a game that decided who would stay home and who would hit the road for the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs next week, Eastside came out playing as though it needed the win to make the playoffs, period.  

“We know next week is playoffs, but we said it starts for us tonight,” Hoff said. “We said we wanted a fast start tonight. We wanted to come out swinging and just have that attitude. We felt like if we started fast, we would have the crowd behind us, and it’s senior night which is such a special night here, and I can’t say enough about how this great group of guys has led us.” 

Eastside, indeed, wasted no time getting its offense in the end-zone, as the Eagles took the opening kickoff, and marched 75 yards in five plays on a drive that was climaxed by running back Tyon Davis’ 3-yard scoring scamper, making it 7-0, Eastside at the 9:40 mark in the first quarter. 

It was exactly how Hoff and company drew it up. 

“We knew that if we could get that quick start, it could definitely set the tone for us,” he said. 

After a North Clayton three-and-out on their first possession of the game, Eastside quarterback Brayden Harper led the Eagles on another scoring drive, capping it off with his own 3-yard touchdown run on a zone read keeper at the 5:24 mark of the first quarter. His trip to paydirt came several plays after Jamari Brown stepped in front of a Brian Brown pass, setting Eastside up in prime field position. 

Eastside’s defense continued its stellar performance throughout the night, highlighted by Jaylon Lackey’s pair of impressive plays in the first half. The first came when he reeled in Brown from behind, after the shifty North Clayton quarterback made a couple initial would-be tacklers miss. 

Jaylon Lackey
Eastside's Jaylon Lackey drags down a North Clayton ball carrier after running him down from behind during a late-season region contest. - photo by Anthony Banks | The Covington News

On the next play, Spurgeon Gaither would bat a third down pass down, causing North Clayton to have to punt the ball once again at the end of the first quarter. 

Hoff credited the uptick in defensive intensity to comfortability with the Eagles’ scheme. 

“They’re playing fast and physical,” he said. “They’re on top of their alignments and assignments. They’re communicating well and just flying around and having fun. Nothing big, really, in changes. I think they’re just more comfortable with what we’re calling.” 

Eastside also got pretty comfortable in the end-zone during the first half. 

After Gaither made that stop to end the first, Harper took the very first play of the second quarter and darted to the end-zone on a 10-yard keeper to give Eastside a 21-0 lead. Several drives later, Harper would score his third rushing touchdown of the night, giving the Eagles a 28-0 advantage with 4:07 left before the half. 

North Clayton looked poised to cut into the lead before halftime, thanks to a punt that ricochet off an Eastside player’s foot. The miscue gave North Clayton 1st and 10 inside the Eastside 25 yard-line. Enter Lackey’s MVP-style play of the night. 

Keelin Lee tried to fire a pass over the middle, but Lackey picked it off and zig-zagged his way deep into North Clayton territory. Eastside’s Kade Mote couldn’t connect on a field goal attempt with less than a minute remaining in the half. But the big defensive stopped ensured a 28-0 halftime lead. 

Eastside benched most of its starters on either side of the ball and gave plenty of carries to back up tailbacks Quincy Collins and Terrance Reid, both freshman, along with senior Shamar Hunter. In fact, it was Hunter who scored Eastside’s last touchdown of the night — a short, three-yard burst on a jet sweep. 

Mote would tack on a 43-yard field goal, and North Clayton scored a couple of garbage time touchdowns late to provide the final margin. 

Nailing down the No. 2 seed in Region 4-AAAA meant Eastside players had the chance to put their hands on some hardware, namely the Region runner-up trophy. The Eagles celebrated raucously as they lifted it during postgame celebration, and Hoff gladly allowed the moment. 

“These guys are warriors,” Hoff said. “They’re fighters. They don’t quit. They earned everything they’ve gotten.” 

Eastside finished its regular season with an 8-2 mark overall, and a 5-1 record in the region. While North Clayton 4-6, 3-3) will go on the road to play Thomson, Eastside will host a Baldwin (6-4, 3-2 in Region 3-AAAA) squad Hoff says is athletic and no stranger to playing stiff competition, playing in a region with top 10 teams in undefeated Burke County and Thomson. 

But Hoff is confident that whatever challenge awaits Friday, his team won’t back down from it. 

“Baldwin is battled tested,” Hoff said. “We’re gonna have our hands full. But I think our guys are up for the challenge. We just keep drawing lines in the sand and telling them to cross it."