Eastside’s offense has been prolific all season, but when it was shutout in the first half against Thomson, things looked dreary for the Eagles. The system was working fine. Eagles’ receivers were dropping balls, quarterback Austin Holloway missed on a few throws and Eastside kept turning the ball over.
Down 21-0 at the half, the score didn’t stop the Eagles from mounting a comeback that began with a courageous dart from Holloway to a double-covered Quintrell Mathis for a 37-yard score as time ran out in the third quarter, effectively bringing Eastside within two scores of Thomson.
The Eagles went on to score twice in the fourth quarter before going on to win 35-34 in double overtime after Thomson missed the extra point attempt to seal the deal. The Eagles will travel to play St. Pius next Friday, and here are some of the things they’ll be looking to duplicate or change in preparation for that game.
Turnovers and missed opportunities contributed to Eastside’s slow start against Thomson. On the first drive Holloway found Josh Sims for what should have been an easy first down conversion, but Sims took his eyes off the ball and dropped it as he attempted to get ready to turn upfield forcing an Eastside punt.
Things didn’t get any better on the Eagles’ second drive. Holloway and Huggins mishandled a handoff that led to a fumble and another Thomson touchdown. Eastside also started off both drives with false start penalties, which definitely didn’t help its cause.
Holloway also was intercepted twice in the first half stalling a couple of drives that had Eastside moving into Thomson territory.
“I didn’t say anything to them. They weren’t nervous, they weren’t ready to play. These coaches do a great job at getting ready to play, but our guys weren’t focused today and they just weren’t ready to play,” Eagles’ head coach Rick Hurst said about his team’s slow start. I don’t know if it was because of the big game last week and the emotions that they spent last week. But you gotta learn that now you gotta put in that same emotion week in/week out and we just didn’t do that in the first half.
I knew when we got one thing that happened good you could see our guys start to perk up and start believing. That’s all we needed and then our guys just played their butts off the rest of the night man I can’t say enough about them and the way they fought back. Our motto’s don’t quit and we won’t. We won’t quit,” Hurst said. “I didn’t say much at halftime I just walked in and told them I was embarrassed and they ought to be embarrassed. Whatever they did, they fixed it so we got another chance.”
Thomson running backs Keonte Grissom and Savante Jones combined to rush for over 100 yards against Eastside. The Eagles had trouble stopping the run, as Thomson’s offensive line was getting a good push at the point of attack, especially in the first half.
Grissom and Jones proved to be a nasty combo out of the backfield. Grissom, listed as a fullback, was a big body and tough to bring down. Eastside defenders had opportunities to bring him down early on runs, but failed to wrap up well and each time Grissom made them pay.
Grissom scored all three of Thomson’s touchdowns, his longer gains were usually coming off the right guard stomping down field with a head of steam. Grissom got injured early in the second quarter and didn’t play much again until the fourth quarter.
Jones came in as a change of pace back and he played fast, much faster than Grissom. Jones was also elusive, but the Eagles were able to tackle him well although there were a few times the Eagles let Jones pick up some extra yardage after initial contact.
Hurst said the team didn’t play focused and watching the defense play it seems that’s where more focus was needed. The defensive play calls were there mostly throughout the game but the team couldn’t bring down the ball carriers. That changed in the second half.
Down seven with two timeouts left, it was Thomson’s ball with just over three minutes to play. The Eagles’ defense stopped three straight runs with much help from the defensive line to get the offense the ball with 1:40 to play.
St. Pius rushed for 323 yards in its win against Fayette County, according to the AJC. Stopping the run will have to be Eastside’s top concern in practice this week, and if they’re going to win playing like they did in the second half against Thomson will do them wonders.
After not doing much on the ground in the first half, Eric Stokes, Huggins and Anthony Brown got behind their blockers and ran the ball well in the second half. The running game lifted some of the pressure off the Eagles’ aerial attack and gave them a balanced offense.
Huggins seemed to be injured most of the game, as Stokes and Brown carried much of the load for the majority of the contest. Stokes returned to his early season form, unofficially rushing for 94 yards on 11 carries.
The running game provided the necessary balance to open up the passing game. Holloway connected on three-straight short passes that all went for at least 10 yards in the third quarter. The rushing attack allowed Eastside to attack Thomson in the short game and in the middle of the field which is how the Eagles got back into the game.
Eastside’s offensive line was big in the second half, giving the running backs room to make plays and pick up big yardage. Brown contributed with 45 yards on five carries. Huggins came back in the overtime and made two big runs to help Eastside even up the score at 28. On third-and-11 Huggins ran the ball to the one making cut after cut to avoid Thomson defenders and give the Eagles a shot to tie the game. On a score-or-go-home fourth-and-one Huggins cut left and followed his blockers to get in for the one-yard score and tie the game after the extra PAT.
Eastside has one of the best offenses in the region and bringing that balanced attack that makes the defense pick their poison against St. Pius could lift the Eagles to another playoff victory.