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PREP FOOTBALL: Five things learned from Eastside-Alcovy
Eastside Football
Jamari Brown (3) celebrates with teammate Jeffery Haynes after scoring on a short pass play. - photo by Anthony Banks

COVINGTON, Ga. — The Newton County football rivalry series has officially come to an end after Friday night’s 35-7 Eastside win over Alcovy, and as always, our venturing out to Sharp Stadium taught us a few things about these two squads as all three county schools now go their separate ways into the rest of the season. 

Here’s what we learned…

1. Eastside is the real deal. The Class AAAA No. 8 ranking isn’t overdone. At least in the early goings, you’ll be hard-pressed to find eight other teams in AAAA ball that are more disciplined or just simply better than Eastside right now. The Eagles have played up in all three of their non-region games, and with a few exceptions last week against Eastside, have made it look relatively easy. It may not be coach Troy Hoff’s most star-studded team, but don’t be surprised if we look back on this season and say it was his most complete team. The scary part is, as good as Eastside’s looked, Hoff knows that his team hasn’t reached its stride yet. 

2. Alcovy’s passing game is a major work in progress. Coming into the game we thought Alcovy, as good as it has been running the football in the young season, would have to find a way to make some big plays in the passing game. Well, the Tigers made plays. But not enough big ones that fell into their own receivers’ hands. Nick Simmons and Jaelen Campbell alternated some again, each having good moments at times. But three interceptions on the night, including one that almost went for a pick six, were major drive and momentum killers. Right now it’s kind of hard to say what Alcovy’s long-term solution is at quarterback, but that’s something the Tigers will no doubt want to determine before region play beings. 

Alcovy quarterback Jaelen Campbell looks for running room against Eastside during the Tigers' 35-7 loss Friday night. - photo by Anthony Banks

3. That said, MJ Stroud is a potential star in the making. He was perhaps the lone bright spot in Alcovy’s passing game, catching three balls, several of which were drive-extending plays on third and fourth downs. Alcovy coach Chris Edgar called the freshman the kind of player that is extremely coachable and “does everything asked of him.” When you combine that with some good, old fashioned wide receiver skill — which Stroud certainly possesses — it’s probably wise to find ways to keep getting him the ball. 

4. Good luck predicting which Eagles player will be the game’s star. Each week it’s been someone different. Literally. Week one at Ola, it was Noah Cook slinging it all over the field. Last week, Taylor Carter dominated. Defensively, Jaylen Atlow’s name was being called a lot. And this week, Hunter Williams emerged, along with AJ Royal, Jordan Rogers and Antavious Cobb who all picked off passes in the Eastside secondary. Wide receiver Jerry Mays got into the act Friday night, scoring on a 38-yard pass play, and sophomore tailback Quincy Cullins made some big runs. Eastside definitely looks very much like a “pick your poison” squad right now. 

Hunter Williams
Eastside defensive lineman Hunter Williams wraps up an Alcovy ball carrier for one of several tackles for loss in Friday's win over the Tigers. - photo by Anthony Banks

5. Newton County teams can still have region success. Now that Alcovy, Eastside and Newton have finished beating up on each other to start the season, it’s on to final non-region games for Alcovy and Newton which means by the end of the month, everybody will be getting into their region slate which is the set of games that truly determines a team’s postseason fate. And while each of our three teams has plenty to work on, I believe they’ve also showed plenty to be reckoned with. If Newton plays clean games, it has the talent to compete with anyone, yes, even this year. Alcovy had another solid night running the ball despite the loss, with Natorian Holloway going for 102 yards on 11 carries. There are several teams in Region 3-AAAAAA that Alcovy should be able to run the ball against well enough to win. And for Eastside — apologies to the rest of the region — it’s going to come down to Woodward and Salem for the Eagles in their desire to clinch a Region 4-AAAA crown — something that definitely looks doable for all these teams right now.