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PREP FOOTBALL: No letdown expected for No. 7 Eastside when Salem comes to town
Eastside Football
The Eastside Eagles will put their No. 7 ranking to the test against another region undefeated foe in Salem Friday at Sharp Stadium. -photo by Anthony Banks

COVINGTON, Ga. — Forget about the whole emotional let down after a big game stuff. 

According to Eastside football coach Troy Hoff, there are a few reasons why not being just as sharp for Friday’s Region 4-AAAA clash with Salem (4-2, 3-0) as Eastside was for last week’s big win over Woodward Academy is out of the question. 

For starters, the seventh-ranked Eagles (6-0, 3-0) aren’t in much different of a place this week as it was last week. In Salem, they’ll face a talented squad teeming with Division I caliber athletes and sitting undefeated in region play with just as much a chance at claiming a region title as Eastside.

That’s why Hoff says it wasn’t difficult at all to get his bunch to turn the page.  

“The Woodward win, it’s like any win,” Hoff said. “You celebrate it. It’s a significant win in the region, going on the road against a team that doesn’t lose very much, period, let alone at home. It’s a toughh place to play. But you move on because we have another challenge tomorrow night in the region with Salem. We’re at home against a really, really good opponent that’s in the same spot we’re in, so it’s pretty easy to get them back and ready to go.” 

When the Seminoles come to town for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff Friday night at Sharp Stadium, they’ll come in a similar place that Eastside was in at Woodward last week. 

Eastside went into last week’s game with an 0-2 record against the War Eagles since being paired up with them in Region 4-AAAA. And although Salem is 6-2 against Eastside in the all-time series, the Eagles have had its number in the two region contests the teams have played. 

Eastside blasted Salem 49-14 back in 2016 and shut them out 28-0 last year. So in many ways, the Seminoles will be trying to do to Eastside what Eastside did to Woodward last week — exact a little revenge and put itself in position to lead the region. 

Like Woodward, Salem will challenge Eastside with a prolific offense that, even when it hasn’t always scored a ton, has put gaudy numbers. It starts with senior quarterback Donald Wilson who’s currently the region’s leading passer, having thrown for 1,307 yards and 14 touchdowns to just two interceptions while completing passes at a 71 percent clip. 

He’s got electric targets in Tyler Smith (19.6 yards per catch) and Makari Pruitt who combine for eight touchdown receptions. On the ground it’s senior Omarious Burnam with 391 rushing yards, two touchdowns and a 7.8 yard-per-carry average who leads them. But freshman Willis Sheppard, III has been effective with his 263 yards while averaging 6.4 yards per tote. 

Jesse Carter, II and Wilson have also shown themselves as viable ball carriers as well. The ‘Notes are coming in hot, too. After losing to Coffee and Alcovy, coach Jarrett Laws’ team has bounced back with three straight wins against Hampton, Henry County and Druid Hills, scoring no less than 32 points in any of the three contests. 

“They’re an extremely athletic football team,” Hoff said. “They’re senior laden with a ton of athletes, and they’ll definitely provide a big challenge.” 

Eastside’s defense has shown a propensity to bottle up high octane offenses though, dating back to how it limited Newton in a 27-20 win, and how it outscored Woodward 31-7 in the second half after falling behind 24-7 and giving up 167 first half total yards to Woodward’s Tahj Gary. 

The good thing for the Eagles, though, is that this week is fall break which means the same four-day preparation schedule Hoff and his staff usually employs for Friday night games. But he says being out of school for the week has actually been good for focus. 

“It allows us to just focus on football,” Hoff said, “We got too lifts in this week. We’ve felt good about the way we’ve attacked it. It’s been a really good week for us where I felt we took advantage of not being in school.” 

Never one to overhype a game or an opponent, Hoff said he and his team acutely understands the implications of Friday night’s game. A will would give Eastside it’s first 7-0 start in school history, while giving it sole possession of first place in the region. 

“Winning tomorrow night does guarantee us anything,” Hoff said. “But what it does is keep us in the spot we want to be in, which is leading (the region). And that’s where it’s at. When the game ends, we’ll look at everything after that and where we stand, but for now we need to just be focused on playing a very talented football team on our home field.”