Ea­gles Soar O

Ea­gles may have all the parts in place

The Covington News - - Sports -

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.

An­thony Banks/The News

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.

An­thony Banks/The Cov­ing­ton News

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.

Josh Briggs

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