HAMPTON, Ga. — History has been made.
A week after clinching the Region 4-AAAA championship, the No. 5 Eastside Eagles made sure there’d be no post-championship letdown, as they made Newton County history, defeating Hampton 42-28 Friday night and becoming the first county school ever to finish a regular season undefeated.
The score was, in no way, indicative of the dominance Eastside showed when it was starters vs. starters action at the beginning of the game. Eastside scored its 35 of its 42 points during their first 18 plays of the game, including three one-play scoring drives.
Hampton tried to make things interesting when Eastside’s reserves and junior varsity players entered the game, but Eagles head coach Troy Hoff took that in shift in momentum in stride, chalking it up as a good bit of practice in dealing with adversity.
In the end, no adversity encountered Friday night was enough to dampen the spirits of Newton County’s first 10-0 football team.
“You know, I think it’ll all settle in down the road, as we’ve talked about,” Hoff said. “This was a huge deal, though. We wanted to go 1-0 this week and get the win. We came out hot, played well, started real fast, played physical and put up a lot of points early. We starting subbing a lot of guys while up 35-0 with a whole second quarter left and Hampton didn’t.”
The Hornets seized enough momentum to pull things to within 35-21 before Eastside’s starters re-entered the game. Even then, it took a fumble recovery at the Eastside 4-yard line to keep Hampton from making it a one-score game.
“Testament to them,” Hoff said. “They played hard, and they kept playing. So we rolled some more of our guys back in, and we were put in some good situations tonight. I told our guys we’re gonna face heat, Friday night at home in the first round of the playoffs, so this was good for us to be in some situations like this.”
Eastside junior quarterback Noah Cook thought so too.
Cook finished the night 13-of-18 passing with an unofficial total of 260 yards and four touchdown passes. Cook seemed to play with a bit of an edge Friday night, and talked with that same chip on his shoulder after the game.
“I’m glad I got the chance to be in at the ending of the game, and I’m glad to be 10-0,” Cook said. “It meant a lot to get this game and get it done. I was ready to go back in the whole time. I as tired of standing on the sidelines.”
After a sluggish first drive, Cook was very much engaged in orchestrating another juggernaut offensive performance as Eastside struck the scoreboard first, and then often, starting things off with a five-yard touchdown run around left tackle by Terrence Reid at the 9:52 mark of the first quarter. It was set up by a 21-yard pass from Cook to Colby Shivers who was streaking down the sideline.
After a Hampton 3-and-out, Jerry Mays fielded a punt, made a jitterbug move around a defender, cut back and darted up the field for a 61-yard return. That big special teams play set up Reid for a 20-yard touchdown run on the very next play to go up 14-0 at the 7:43 mark.
Eastside’s stifling defensive play continued on Hampton’s ensuing drive, as Tomarkus Woods and Dalton Whitley combined for a sack of Hampton’s quarterback that garnered a 3-yard loss. The Hornets would punt two plays later, and then the quick-strike tendencies continued for the Eagles as Cook connected with Taylor Carter for a 24-yard scoring strike where Carter dove into the end zone.
Still in the first quarter, Hampton was stopped after trying to convert on a fourth down, and once again Eastside wasted no time finding the end zone, this time with Cook tossing a beautiful placation pass to Shivers who rumbled 39 yards for a score, making it 28-0, Eastside with 3:20 left.
The Eagles capped the first quarter scoring when Cook connected with Cobb on an 18-yard fade route, making it 35-0, which was a lead it would take into the halftime locker room.
From there, Eastside coach Troy Hoff called off the dogs for the most part, giving some backups plenty of playing time. Hampton scored all 28 points in the final two quarters — 21 off them coming against a mixture of mostly backups and underclassmen for Eastside.
Eastside’s (10-0, 6-0) first round opponent will be Hardaway (6-4) of Region 1-AAAA. The Hawks qualified by securing the No. 4 seed with a 15-14 win over Westover Saturday.
Hoff said he’s feeling good about the mental state of his team, in particular.
“I like it where they are,” Hoff said. “They’re playing confident and playing aggressive. First off, they’ve set a high standard for themselves. They’re excited about being at home for round one, and they know what comes with that. It’s motivation for them. They’re just a strong group that likes to be together, and they’re just ready to play.”
Cook said that readiness goes back to last year when he missed most of his sophomore season with injury, and watched as the Eagles lost in the first round of the playoffs at home. Cook wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“This means the world to me,” Cook said. “Last year, not getting to end the season or come out here and play with my brothers, it was tough. But now it’s a whole new season. We’re in the playoffs now, and we’re just gonna keep draw a line and passing it. We’re not gonna do anything different. We’ll go in on Sunday, fix what we need to fix, and it’s all gonna start over.”