Eagles Soar O
Eagles may have all the parts in place
K. It was only one win. But what an impressive win it was. If you missed it, Eastside took Westside, Macon to the woodshed Friday in the Class AAA playoff opener. So what did we learn? For one, the Eagles' defense is very good, particularly up front. Sheldon Rankins, Shaquille Huff and Jerrell Crowder are men playing against boys. The trio formed one of the best defensive lines in all of high school football in Georgia last year and all they did in the offseason and throughout the year so far is get even better. Rankins is big and fast and does such a good job of containment that if he gets parallel with the opposing quarterback, it results in a sack or at the very least, an errant pass. Crowder is essentially unblockable on the opposite side and when those two get a push, it creates havoc in the backfield. The key to it all is Huff who shuts down anything up the middle. He's the biggest of the three but can move like a linebacker. Think of it like a funnel. When Rankins and Crowder get that push and hold containment, they feed the ball to the middle where Huff does the rest.
The three were downright filthy Friday, turning what the Seminoles had hoped to be at least a competitive playoff game into a nightmare. In the first quarter, quarterback Daniel Duhart found some success scrambling. But once Crowder and Rankins made an adjustment, they were able to keep him inside the tackles, allowing Huff to clean up in the middle. If the Eagles play like they did Friday against Westside, this team can go a long way. The question then turns to the offense.
Eastside did two things well Friday it hasn't done consistently so far. The Eagles' offensive line gave Califf Carnes time to pass and Eastside ran the ball. Over the pas two years, Eastside has had a decent passing game but been very good on the ground. They also had a Division 1 line-
man in James Johnson and running back in Broderick Alexander in 2008 and an All-State running back in Git Aiken last year. And while this year's offensive line lacks the stars it's had previously which included Jarrett Hubbard who is also playing college football, it's finally starting to find a rhythm. So much of what Eastside does in the running game is predicated on timing and its zone blocking scheme and the offensive line has been a MASH unit for much of the season. But the past few games they've played together with their best five and it's starting to show. Alex Smith is also starting to make everyone forget about the past. The sophomore running back had 117 yards on the ground in his playoff debut and made some cuts reminiscence of Aiken. He also had a Aiken-esque 26-yard touchdown run in which he broke several tackles before diving across the goal line.
Finally Eastside has a legitimate passing game and a star receiver who makes big plays. Carnes is throwing the ball with the most confidence he's ever had. He is comfortable in the pocket and delivering the ball where only his receivers can make a play. Quan Moton and Matt Hitchcock are making plays on possession downs and the emergence of Antonius Sims at tight end is another weapon in the passing game. But Dante Blackmon makes Eastside's passing attack downright lethal. Blackmon has seven touchdown receptions of 30 yards or more this year and all he's done the past two games is catch five touchdowns and rack up 321 receiving yards. Oh, and he picked off a pass one-handed Friday. Blackmon is locked in right now and Carnes isn't missing him.
With Eastside seemingly unstoppable, it's important to keep things in perspective. They played a No. 3 seed in a top-heavy region and lost to one of the strongest teams in the state Sandy Creek rather badly earlier in the year (although Carnes left early in the second quarter with the Eagles within a score). Westside was handled pretty badly by Peach County and Baldwin in their two region losses so it's hard to gauge how good the Eagles really are right now. That said. Carnes made some passes that would have burned any team. Of his five touchdowns, two of them were into extremely tight coverage. But the throws were perfect and only Blackmon could make a play. The other three scores were also on the money and made off of quick reads. That in itself says he's on his game.
Eastside needs Smith to be as good as he was against Westside for the Eagles to keep this train rolling. If the passing game stays hot, it will open up the running game. It's sort of a quasi approach to the game, especially in high school. But Eastside's coaches are good enough to go with what works. How far that takes them is yet to be seen. Right now if the defense continues playing like it has, Eastside will be in every game. With its newfound passing attack, Eastside also has the quickstrike ability needed to score quickly and in bunches. This week's test at Cairo will answer a lot of questions. The Eagles will again be underdogs. But this team is playing with a confidence I've never seen. If you watched this year's World Series, you know how that can go. Any good team can get hot. If you catch a break here and there, anything can happen. That's why Eastside may just have enough to make a run at immortality. Stay tuned.
High fives: Dante Blackmon salutes wide receiver coach Frankie Iverson after corralling his third touchdown during Eastside's 41-13 win over Westside, Macon Friday in the Class AAA playoff opener.
Nice debut: Alex Smith ran for 117 yards and a touchdown in his first playoff game during Eastside 41-13 win over Westside, Macon Friday at Sharp Stadium.