COVINGTON, Ga. - It was not the prettiest win for the Eastside Eagles (1-2), but they will take their 42-28 victory over the Alcovy Tigers (0-3) for their first win of the season.
It was a back and forth affair, but the Eagles' ability to limit mistakes on their end and take advantage of the Tigers' lapses ultimately gave the Eagles the edge in the game. This sentiment was especially true in the area of special teams where the Eagles held the advantage for the majority of the night.
Despite one fumbled snap on a punt in the early portions of the game, the Eagles special teams unit played a big part of three of their scores. It was the special teams unit for Eastside that gave them an insurmountable lead in the second half.
With the game tied and 11:33 left in the third quarter, the Eagles punted the ball deep, and Eagles Dayton Green forced the returner to fumble the ball.
In a surprising turn of events, offensive lineman Sambo Button recovered the fumble, and with a mob of Eagles surrounding him he ran it in to give his team a 28-21 lead. Button described the moment of returning to the sidelines after his touchdown as one he would for sure not forget.
Less than a minute later, the Eagles Giovanni Macek blocked the punt and then proceeded to dive on the ball in the endzone. This pushed the Eagles lead to 35-21 with 10:34 left to play in the game.
The Tigers and Eagles would each go on to add one more touchdown apiece, but the Eagles would hold on to a 14-point victory over their county rivals.
On the flip side of the Eagles special teams excellence, the special teams' miscues of the Tigers not only gave the Eagles the win, but also a huge momentum boost heading into halftime.
With less than a minute to go, the Tigers had one punt for less than 10 yards deep in their own territory, and the Eagles quickly turned that into 6 to tie the game in the first half.
Eastside punter Ezra King also did an excellent job of limiting the Tigers opportunities of returning kicks as he sent kick after kick out of the back of the endzone. It was an all-around impressive performance for the Eagles special teams unit and head coach Troy Hoff definitely has something to be proud of in this game.
"We challenge them (Eastside's special teams unit) every week. Our belief is always that if everything is equal, then we want to win the game in that phase and tonight they changed the game," Hoff said. "Those guys worked hard in practice all week and were locked in and they saw the result tonight."
The Eagles also had a solid game defensively especially in the area of turnovers. Besides the returned fumble and blocked kick, the Eagles also had three interceptions in the game.
This killed Alcovy drives and kept the ball out of their hands in a game where they played catchup for the majority of the second half. Jalen Davis led the way for the Eagles with two interceptions and Devin Brown also had one to seal the game in the later stages.
The defense still has some work to do as the Tigers found a lot of success on the ground. Alcovy has to be proud of their ability to run the ball, and despite the score, Andrae Robinson had a breakout game.
Robinson finished with an unofficial total of 153 rushing yards and one touchdown. The Tigers were once again without Natorien Holloway, and Robinson's breakout performance is a highlight for the Tigers.
Holloway's potential return next week could prove to be a problem for opposing defenses as he and Robinson will be a solid one-two punch to that will be tough to stop.
M.J. Stroud had an up and down night, but once again, his elite athleticism proved to be a problem for the Eagles. He had three touchdowns on the night with one coming through the air and the other two coming on the ground.
Stroud finished with an unofficial total of 116 rushing yards and 73 passing yards through the air. The downfall in Stroud's performance was his three interceptions that came on a couple of overthrown passes.
However, Stroud still seems to be improving each week, and Dukes should grow more confident in the play of his young quarterback as the season progresses.
On the flip side of that, the Eagles offense struggled in the early stages, similar to the struggles they have had all season. However, Noah Cook and Terrence Reid seemed to find their groove in the latter part of the first half and led their team to an outstanding victory.
Cook finished an unofficial 8/22 through the air but had 118 yards and one touchdown pass. Reid was tough to tackle all night and ended his game with an unofficial 90 rushing yards and three touchdowns. This was a bounceback performance for Reid as well, who has been getting back into shape since his offseason knee surgery and he described his game as "amazing, like a dream come true."
Hoff was especially pleased with Reid's performance and knows that once he gets back to 100% then he will be even more effective in the Eagles backfield.
"He's probably still not fully 'Terrence,' there's times we see it but he's getting there and when the lights go on, he's 'Terrence,'" he said. "That kid is a competitor and he's a gamer and he is fun to watch run."
Jaylen Woods was the standout receiver for the Eagles as he only had two catches, but they were two big catches that came on the same drive. The first catch was a 54-yard dime thrown by Cook that fell perfectly in the arms of Woods.
The Cook to Woods connection continued on the drive and followed that play with a 12-yard strike in the corner of the endzone. The Eagles seemed to show some progress on offense and will look to build on that in their upcoming bye week.
The Tigers will next look to get head coach Jason Dukes his first victory on Sept.13 at home against the Salem Seminoles.