COVINGTON, Ga. -- When backup Eastside quarterback Jaylen Woods connected with Giovanni Macek on a 50-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter of the Eagles’ Thursday night win over Luella, things couldn’t have gotten more ironically magical.
Macek’s score and the ensuing extra point gave Eastside a 52-15 lead over their Region 4-AAAA foe on a night when there was more than just high school football driving the atmosphere.
Eastside football flexed its Class AAAA eighth ranked muscles Thursday night. It showed itself a more-than-formidable threat to dethrone Woodward Academy from its Region 4-AAAA perch. It stated its case that, by the time this season is said and done, the Eagles could be a dark horse state title contender.
But make no mistake about it. Thursday night wasn’t about football as much as it was about Matt Cooper.
Cooper, the Covington Police Department officer who was injured in the line of duty on Labor Day, wasn’t there in person at Sharp Stadium to see the processional of law enforcement personnel from the CPD, the Newton County Sheriff’s Department and the Georgia State Patrol.
He wasn’t there to see everybody in the stands decked out in blue. He wasn’t physically present to hear the hair-raising, goosebump-producing bagpipe rendition from the Georgia State Patrol.
He wasn’t standing there in the flesh to see law enforcement personnel burst through the Eastside Eagles banner, arms linked and walking resolutely toward midfield.
But with every tribute, every moment of appreciation and every heartfelt word of support expressed, you could feel his presence. You could feel the #CooperStrong heartbeat pulsating through the Sharp Stadium crowd.
It even looked as if the scoreboard would reflect his spirit.
Ah, yes. Back to that magical 52 spot Macek’s catch-and-run put on the scoreboard.
The irony? Matt Cooper wore the No. 52 when he played for Eastside over 15 years ago. And the irony wasn’t lost on Eastside coach Troy Hoff.
“We wanted 52 (points), but we got 58, so we’ll take it,” Hoff said with a smile.
The final score came when Tucker Clearly scooped up a fumble — Eastside’s sixth forced turnover of the night — and rumbled the other way for a touchdown. But from the beginning of the pregame festivities on Law Enforcement Appreciation Night, all the way to the last score, it literally felt like everything that happened Thursday night was for Cooper.
“We told our guys what a big moment this was gonna be fore the community,” Hoff said. “It was a beyond-the-game moment, but it’s the game that is able to bring the community together. And they were the focal point. It was exciting to see all of the officers there tonight and we were excited that we could do that for them. It goes deeper here at Eastside because of the families.”
The family feel was, indeed, real for Eastside quarterback Noah Cook. Perhaps out of all the players, the magnitude of Thursday night struck him hardest. Cook’s uncle is Covington Police Department captain Ken Malcolm, which means Cook’s heart strings are closely tied to what Covington’s finest put themselves through each day and night to protect our community.
“It really means a lot to us, and to me, especially with (Captain Malcolm) being my uncle,” Cook said. “I know first hand how they go out and they risk their lives every day, and they never know what they’re getting into. And for us to come out here and represent them and play for them, it felt good. It felt real good.”
And it looked just as good as it felt. More than a half dozen news outlets were on hand to shine a bright and positive light, once again, on the Covington community. The kind of light that the people of Covington are no strangers to.
It almost feels like a broken record. Like a scratched up CD that’s stuck on one refrain of one song, playing it over and over again. But it’s a lovely tune that never gets old.
In a world that seems to get more and more divisive as the days come and go, the power of a small community on metro Atlanta’s far eastern fringe keeps on giving us hope. It keeps on showing us how it’s done.
It keeps reminding us of how much good is our land. The good stuff doesn’t always make for sexy headlines and clickable, watchable news. But the good stuff is what helps us keep our sanity through trying times.
It’s the good stuff that reminds us that maybe, just maybe, humanity’s decency hasn’t completely eroded. Maybe the forces that try to pull us apart won’t win. Maybe they aren’t as strong as the noise around us sometimes seems to suggest.
So Covington, keep playing that tune. Keep showing up for those around you when they need you most. Keep proving the rest of the world wrong. Keep being #CooperStrong for the officer, his family and the rest of the world that’s watching.
In Hoff’s last remarks about the Thursday night tributes, he sort of put things in perspective in a way that was maybe more poignant than he might have intended it to be.
He said, “We’re hoping Coop’s doing better and that this all could help. He’s an Eagle. He’s always gonna be one.”
The cool thing about eagles is that they, perhaps more than many other birds, are built to handle turbulent winds and quickly shifting conditions.
Officer Cooper and has family experienced a very unexpected time of turbulence on the first Monday of this month. But true to an eagle’s form, the Cooper family is still soaring — still pushing through and traveling toward a destination full of hope and healing. In short, it reserves its best and strongest flying for the toughest conditions.
If the kind of courage we’ve seen from the Cooper family and the kind of camaraderie we’ve seen from the Covington community embodies what it means to be an eagle, then may we all aspire to be one.
Gabriel Stovall is the sports editor for The Covington News. He can be reached for tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1 and @CovNewsSports.