Hoff-Burke County postgame
SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. — It’s a ride so sweet that no one wants it to end.
The Eastside Eagles kept its undefeated season and quest for a Class AAAA state championship alive with a 42-35 shootout win over a Burke County team and program that’s been where the Eagles are trying to go.
To do so, coach Troy Hoff’s squad has had to fight through everything from inclement weather to finding itself in a home-away-from-home situation at Social Circle High School’s football stadium. None of that phased the state’s fourth-ranked squad, and here are some things we learned about the Eagles after Friday night.
1. Taylor Carter is having a season to remember. We’d have to go back in the history books to see if this is the best season an Eastside running back has ever had, but it’s got to be up there. Carter is responsible for 17 of the Eagles’ rushing touchdowns after adding three more to his total against Burke County. On top of that, he has now eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the season and is near 1,400 scrimmage yards. Aside from the touchdowns, perhaps his most important play was a 46-yard jaunt for a first down that virtually sealed the win against the Bears and capped off a 127-yard performance on just 14 carries. His role in this offense is unmatched and downright historic in many ways. The coolest part is that its not over yet.
2. Eastside’s got the most from a bend-but-don’t-break defense. The Eagles’ defense allowed 28 of the Bears 35 points and gave up almost 400 rushing yards. It allowed some huge, chunk plays that kept the Bears in the game. However, they bowed their backs and showed plenty of resiliency when it was needed most. A couple of forced fumbles and two fourth down stops, one that virtually won them the game, were all that was needed to give Eastside the win. It’s the playoffs. How many yards they give up or touchdowns doesn’t matter as long as they force stops when needed and give the offense a chance to do their thing. Ultimately, the scoreboard contains the only numbers that matter in this quest for a state title.
3. True leadership shows in the face of adversity. In this round two game, the leadership came from Noah Cook. That’s not a shock, right? The kid is insanely talented, but you will never hear an ounce of cockiness come from his mouth. He gives credit to his entire team, especially his offensive line, even in games like this one where he went (unofficially) 9-for-13 for 231 yards and three touchdowns. His leadership ability was on full display in a time when adversity struck the team. After forcing a fourth down stop, the Eagles coughed up the football on the very next play that the Bears scooped up and scored, making it a one score game again. After the play, while some players were visibly upset, Cook brought his guys together and made sure every one of them knew that the game wasn’t over and that they were not out of it yet. Two possessions later, the Eagles would score again on a fast, 3-play drive.
4. Nothing seems to phase this team. Eastside found themselves in a situation that it’s not used being in when it fell behind 7-0 five minutes into the game, but the Eagles responded quickly, tying the game in just a few plays of their own. This game turned into a good ol’ shootout in the third quarter, in which there were five combined touchdowns between the two teams. The game ended as a one score game, but both teams combined for 77 points. Burke County’s 35 points were the most that the Eagles have allowed all season, but the most important thing is their score was 42, and they are moving on, and proved once again that their unflappable character rises to the top in the most crucial of situations.
5. The toughest test in perhaps school history looms. With the way the bracket was laid out this season, Eastside will now host the top-ranked team in all of AAAA in Blessed Trinity, who will also enter this game without a single loss on the season. For those who don’t know, Blessed Trinity is the team that upset a Trevor Lawrence-led Cartersville squad last season en route to the Class AAAA state crown. For Eastside, this is the deepest playoff run its had since 2009, and what a better way to hopefully come back to Sharp Stadium than to be greeted by the Goliath of the class. Eastside will have to play its best football of the year to score such a major upset, but crazier things have happened in the playoffs.