Eastside entered Friday night's game trying to climb up the Region 8-AAAA playoff seeding, and left its matchup with Stephens County secured of a position.
However, it wasn't what the Eagles had in mind as a 23-7 loss left them with a fourth seed, set to face a top-ranked team in the opening round of the state playoffs due to begin Nov. 16. Early on, the game looked like it would play out well for Eastside (6-3, 4-2), which forced a fumble on its 25-yard line to stop Stephens County's opening drive. The Eagles then marched down 75 yards to go up 7-0 as they tried to continue a four-game win streak.
"We mixed the run and pass very well and kept them off balance," Eastside coach Rick Hurst.
The Indians (7-2, 4-2) also tried to maintain balance on offense, with senior running back Chaz Thornton setting up the pass.
"The running back had a pretty good game," Hurst said. "He probably had 100 yards but he earned every one of them."
While Thornton kept things going on the ground, Stephens County did a lot of its damage through the air with big pass plays.
"We gave up a couple of big pass plays that were touchdown passes, which we haven't done in a while," Hurst said. "The big plays that hurt us were passing routs that we worked on all week.
We just got out of position; the kid made a good throw and the kid made a good catch; they did what they were supposed to do and we didn't execute."
Stephens County scored all 23 of its points in the second quarter, including a touchdown on short field position thanks to an Eastside fumble on its own 30.
In the second half, the Eagles' defense answered Hurst's half-time challenge and shut down the Indians. But it was too late and Stephens County won its third straight.
"I was proud of the kids and the way they were playing in the second half and the way they did, they could have probably scored a lot more points but we just played really well in the second half defensively," Hurst said.
Eastside has one more regular season game, as it welcomes unbeaten and sixth-ranked (in the Oct. 30 AP ranking) Monroe Area on senior night Friday. The Eagles can't improve its playoff standings in the season finale, but will still look to spoil what has been at terrific season by the Hurricanes, which have won every game this season by an average of 47.2-12.3.
Hurst said he thinks Monroe Area will play its top players looking to remain unbeaten.
The Eagles won the previous meeting between the two teams, 28-14 Nov. 16, 2001.
"It out to be a great game with a big crowd for us on senior night," said Hurst, who plans on playing to win, rather than rest for the playoffs.