It’s over, but it was something to behold.
The Eastside Eagles’ magical football season came to an end in pretty anticlimactic fashion. Blessed Trinity came in as a No. 1 team and played like a No. 1 team.
Meanwhile, the Eagles seemed as if they just couldn’t catch their breath on a cold, rainy night that looked completely different from the fiery hot way Eastside’s approached this season.
Blessed Trinity punched fast, hard and repeatedly. And while you watched, you kept on thinking Eastside would be better than this. The Titans from Roswell didn’t look overly impressive. Save a 6-foot-2, 217-pound 4-star running back named Steele Chambers (what a football name, right?), pound for pound and player for player, there didn’t seem to be anything overwhelming about Blessed Trinity in juxtaposition to the home team.
The intangibles are, perhaps, what tipped the scales.
For all the places Eastside’s undefeated regular season has taken it this season, it’s still not been where Blessed Trinity has been. The defending Class AAAA champions played with a quiet swagger that was undeniable, but not flashy.
It didn’t need to be. Chambers rushed for well over 100 yards and quarterback Jake Smith only threw it when he had to — which wasn’t much — as Blessed seemingly shrugged off the Eagles as an afterthought, perhaps with visions of a potential state championship rematch with Marist dancing in their heads.
I’ll admit, at times it was hard to watch. After watching Blessed Trinity’s film this week, I felt like Eastside could compete, if not win with the right breaks. And although the Titans went up fast, we’d seen this before, right? I mean as recently as last week.
We’ve seen Eastside get punched in the mouth. We’ve seen them bounce back. And if you’re like me, even after the first…then the second touchdown…you were waiting for the bounce back.
It never came. Instead, toss plays and between-the-tackle action continued to puncture holes in the Eagles’ defense that seemed to just run out of gas after a long, emotional season.
And as tempted as you may have been to get frustrated with Eastside’s performance, you really couldn’t do it. Because, man, did the Eagles give us some great memories.
The undefeated regular season — the first football team in the county to do so, the dramatic comebacks. The team storylines and individual stories that emerged. A group of guys that even senior running back Taylor Carter acknowledged to be “not that talented” just kept on coming.
And as our Newton County sports teams tend to do at least once a year, Eastside football rallied the Covington community, thanks to its love for injured police officer and Eastside alum Sean Cooper. Anyone who saw the on-field tribute to the Cooper family before the Luella game will not soon forget it.
It was just the latest reminder of how sports can be so much bigger than the game alone.
We can analyze until the cows came home why things went so wrong, so fast Friday night. But I would caution against it, lest it causes us to shortchange the overall impact this team had on our community and on each other this year.
If nothing else, we know that the love for high school football and the love for community is alive and well in Newton County.
The Eastside seniors played their last game on the Sharp Stadium field. Some, perhaps for the last time on any kind of football field. The dreams and aspirations of a state championship will be placed on hold for another year. But this program isn’t going away.
Coach Troy Hoff showed us what happens when resolve, resiliency, determination and discipline can do, even with a lack of elite talent. If he ever gets some of those horses, with the kind of system and culture he’s built in his three years at the helm, watch out.
But even if he doesn’t, even if he just keeps on getting the guys who will play hard for each other, run through a wall for their coach and community, the chips may just fall in their direction one day.
As for now, although the season is over, our Covington pride doesn’t have to be. Kudos, Eastside Eagles, for the good feelings and memories on and off the field. This 2018 squad won’t soon be forgotten.
Gabriel Stovall is the sports editor of The Covington News. He can be reached for tips and story ideas at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1.