CONYERS, Ga. — It would’ve been easy to mistake Spurgeon Gaither for an offensive player Friday night.
The 6-foot-2, 275 pounder plays defensive tackle for the Eagles, but you would’ve thought they slipped him in at tailback based on his stats.
Eastside used two defensive touchdowns from Gaither — one, a 98-yard pick six, and the other an 18-yard fumble recovery — to take a 28-0 win at Salem Friday night, and head coach Troy Hoff couldn’t say enough about the way Gaither played in an overall stellar defensive effort.
“I think Spurgeon showed us a little jump cut on one of those runs,” Hoff joked. “This week in film he’ll probably be lobbying for offensive carries. But seriously, Spurgeon’s a warrior. He’s been with us four years. A team captain. He’s that guy who doesn’t care about the spotlight. He doesn’t care about anything but playing football, and he works extremely hard.”
Eastside came out playing hard and looking fresh from the get go, showing no signs of a Woodward Academy hangover.
Tyon Davis started things off with several hard charging runs during the Eagles’ first offensive series. But it would be on the Eagles’ second drive when they’d first light up the scoreboard.
It happened when sophomore quarterback Noah Cook found a wide open Jamari Brown on a post route for a 39-yard touchdown pass, giving Eastside a 7-0 lead at the 7:43 mark in the first quarter.
Salem looked poised to respond quickly, as quarterback Donald Wilson began marching the Seminoles on what looked like it would be a 90-yard scoring drive. But on 1st and goal from the Eastside 2-yard line, Gaither picked off a screen pass and rumbled 98 yards to the end zone, pushing Eastside’s advantage to 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Gaither may have been too winded after that play to talk about it in the immediate aftermath. But after the game, he wasn’t too shy to express his pleasure on what was easily a career-long run for him.
“Oh my goodness, I ain’t gonna lie to you. Yes, I was definitely tired,” Spurgeon said.
That 14-0 advantage was also the score at halftime, although Eastside had a chance to put more points on the board. The Eagles had the ball at the Salem 21-yard, but a miscommunication resulted in Cook spiking the ball, resulting in an incomplete pass and turnover on downs.
It was evident that Eastside’s desire was to get a quick start out of the gate in the third quarter. After the Eastside defense stuffed Salem for a three-and-out, it took just two plays for Davis to dart 37 yards for a touchdown, pushing Eastside’s lead to 21-0 with less than three minutes gone by in the period.
“At halftime the coaches told us we were out there slacking a little bit,” Spurgeon said. “But we picked it up and got the W.”
Spurgeon would make sure to add his own insurance score to the Region 4-AAAA win, as he scooped up a Salem fumble and sprinted 18 yards toward the end zone to provide the final score.
“Those plays felt like a movie for me, man,” Spurgeon said. “I just came out here and did it. Saw the ball out there and just came and got it. But it wasn’t just me. We all played good as a team.”
That was the result of a short memory and a good two weeks of practice during last week’s bye.
“After the Woodward game, we forgot about it that same day,” he said. “We just came back to practice that Monday and we weren’t really worried about Woodward. Woodward is in the past.”
But the future looks bright for Eastside. The Eagles will host North Clayton Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on Senior Night. But thanks to North Clayton’s 7-6 loss to Henry County, Eastside will clinch the No. 2 seed in the region which guarantees the Eagles will host a first round playoff game two weeks from now, even if they lose Saturday.
But that doesn’t mean a night off for Eastside against their region foe.
“That game is huge,” Hoff said. “It’s huge for us to have momentum going into the playoffs. The goal is still 8-2 and hosting game 11, that’s a big game for us. It should be fun.”