Third time might be the charm

The Covington News - - Sports -

With the play­offs set to kick off tonight at 7:30 p.m., East­side will at­tempt an­other run to the Ge­or­gia Dome for that elu­sive state cham­pi­onship. Let's take a look at what needs to hap­pen for the Ea­gles to get past their opener and be­yond. An im­proved and ex­pe­ri­enced Carnes is the key:

Quar­ter­back Califf Carnes is one of only two of­fen­sive play­ers from last year's team which made it to the semi­fi­nals. Carnes is poised to do more this time around. And he'll need to. Gone is All-State run­ning back Git Aiken. Aiken car­ried the load last year while Carnes was more of a game man­ager. Think Trent Dil­fer in Bal­ti­more when the Ravens won the Su­per Bowl in 2000. Carnes will have to do more this year star­ing tonight if East­side is go­ing to win. The Ea­gles are young in the back­field and nei­ther Alex Smith nor Chavis Griggs have play­off ex­pe­ri­ence. The of­fen­sive line is young save for Lin­coln Tem­ple and over­all, those two ar­eas aren't as strong as they were last sea­son. Carnes will need to make more plays in the pass­ing game for East­side to win. He's a bet­ter quar­ter­back and up to the task. What's more is he has weapons to throw too. Dante Black­mon and Quan Moten are the deep threats East­side didn't have last year. Canes' biggest chal­lenge will be lim­it­ing mis­takes. He's still prone to forc­ing the ball at times but has be­come a very good de­ci­sion maker over­all. De­fense wins cham­pi­onships:

East­side head coach Rick Hurst was an of­fen­sive coach through­out his ca­reer be­fore tak­ing the Ea­gles' head job. As

the of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor at Amer­i­cus in the mid '90s, he nearly won it all re­ly­ing heav­ily on the pass­ing game. Make no mis­take about it though, he knows de­fense is what wins high school state cham­pi­onships. If that's the case, East­side is in good shape. Led by the for­mi­da­ble de­fen­sive front of Shel­don Rank­ins, Shaquille Huff and the non-stop mo­tor be­hind Jer­rell Crow­der, East­side's de­fense is very strong. With Ke­vis Bell pa­trolling the mid­dle of the field and an im­proved Blake Rouse as well as the emer­gence of Cody San­dler at lineback­ers, the Ea­gles' are hard to move the foot­ball on. The one ques­tion mark may be at de­fen­sive back where they're un­der­sized. Then again, most teams don't have Champ Bai­ley-sized DBs so as long as their tech­nique is sound, they should be okay. The bot­tom line is, the de­fen­sive line is hard to block and East­side im­poses its will the longer the game goes on. Their de­fense will keep them in ev­ery game and tonight will be the first test. Spe­cial teams makes a dif­fer­ence:

If you've fol­lowed col­lege foot­ball the past decade or so, you may be fa­mil­iar with Vir­ginia Tech's pen­chant for mak­ing plays on spe­cial teams. The Hok­ies play that phase of the game so well that, well, they're known for it. And in high school, ex­e­cu­tion in spe­cial teams can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween a win or a loss. East­side does a good job in kick cov­er­age and fi­nally struck for a re­turn last week with Lance Davis. More im­por­tantly though, Ea­gle kicker/punter Cody San­dler is a weapon. His abil­ity to rack up touch­backs on kick­offs and pin teams deep on punts gives the de­fense an ad­van­tage.

"It's hard for high schools to go 80 yards and score," Hurst said. "When you ask a team to do that all the time, it makes it even tougher."

San­dler has a big leg and can hit from 50 yards. With high school rules giv­ing the other team the ball on the 20 af­ter a missed field goal, it makes gam­bling on a long field goal an easy de­ci­sion. If the Ea­gles can get him one early — maybe some­thing in­side of 30 yards, it could end up help­ing later in tonight's game. East­side has a de­cided ad­van­tage in the kick­ing game over most op­po­nents. Look­ing ahead:

Coaches hate to talk about it but trust me, they all do it. Look­ing at the play­off bracket. You won't catch Hurst talk­ing about it so I'll do it for him.

West­side, Ma­con will be a tough first round op­po­nent. But should the Ea­gles get past them, the fun be­gins. Round two would most likely be a re­turn trip to Cairo. I've even looked at the fore­cast for that game. Zero chance of rain. Cairo won the whole thing in 2008 af­ter dis­patch­ing East­side 23-6 along the way. If the Ea­gles were to get past that game, it gets bet­ter with a pos­si­ble re­match against Car­rolton. Granted, that would be de­pen­dent on Car­rolton mak­ing it to the third round which hasn't hap­pened in a while, thanks in large part to none other than East­side who has knocked them out in the sec­ond round in each of the past two years. Should the Ea­gles make it that far, I like that matchup. Car­rolton head coach Ry­van Teague has yet to fig­ure out East­side's zone block­ing scheme and the Ea­gles could ride that to the semi­fi­nals for a sec­ond straight year. Should that hap­pen, they'd likely matchup against, you guessed it, Peach County with a berth in the ti­tle game at stake again. Many be­lieve the Tro­jans are the odds on fa­vorite to re­peat as state cham­pi­ons. Sandy Creek looms as their tough­est op­po­nent will prob­a­bly be Ridge­land in the semis.

To say the road to the Dome is tough is an un­der­state­ment. East­side needs a lot to go right to get there. But the Ea­gles won't be scared of those teams. They need a good start tonight.

Josh Briggs

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.