Eastside returns to Cairo focused on the big prize
The only time Eastside and Cairo met was in a torrential downpour in 2008 during the Class AAA playoffs. Cairo took that game 23-6 on the way to a state title. This time Eastside visits with a different mindset. Cairo is a tough team, but the Syrupmakers are in the way of the ultimate goal, a trip to the Georgia Dome for a shot at the state title.
Eastside has the momentum but so does Cairo. While the Eagles have won four straight and are coming off a 41-13 dismantling of West- side, Macon in the Class AAA opener last week, the Syrupmakers haven't lost yet.
"They are what they are. They're 11-0 and a good football team," Eastside coach Rick Hurst said. "They are solid everywhere. Defensively they aren't very big, but they're physical and quick and run to the ball well."
Cairo will use its athleticism to make big plays on defense. With Eastside's penchant for suffering the occasional breakdown in special teams, namingly the kicking game, the Eagles have to be
careful not to give up a gamechanging play.
"They are a very opportunistic defense," Hurst said. "They haven't given up a lot. They come after you with the punt block and seem to get one every game. They can put you in a bad situation defensively because it gives them a short field."
What worries Hurst and his staff is that Eastside gave up a punt block last week to Westside, Macon and gave up one for a touchdown last year at Peach County. The Eagles also gave one up at Sandy Creek and Cairo is similar to both the Trojans and Patriots in overall team speed.
"They seem to always be in the right place at the right time," Hurst said. "Any time you play an aggressive team you try to take advantage of it by keeping it off balance. You can try and throw them off with something like a reverse but they have playing that well."
What Hurst won't have to worry about is his quarterback. Of Eastside's three losses this season, only one came with Califf Carnes running the offense. He's coming off his best game as an Eagle, throwing five touchdowns last week, and has 17 touchdowns to four interceptions on the year.
"I'm confident he'll make good decisions. He's been making good decisions all year so I'm not worried about that," Hurst said. "We just have to make sure we're on top of our game this week. Offensively we have to get positive yards on first down that way we aren't in long yardage situations because those guys do such a good job of running to the football. First and second down we have to make sure are for positive gains."
Defensively the Eagles will see a similar team to Sandy Creek. The Patriots found success up the middle and were able to get the next level. It will be up to Eastside's front three to contain the run and get pressure on the quarterback. The Eagles want to make Cairo throw the ball.
"They run the football. The one thing I like about their offensive line is they come off the ball extremely hard," Hurst said. "They tend to wear teams down. They roll in two or three different running backs and keep guys fresh. If you don't get low, they'll drive you off the ball and get six or seven yards a pop and keep drives going. We have make sure we're maintaining our pad levels and keeping with our reads and when we get an opportunity to get to the quarterback, we have to go after it."
A lot has changed since 2008. Eastside was a better running team but not as good in the passing game. The defense is perhaps the biggest difference. While that team had speed, this Eastside squad is more physical, something Cairo exploited two years ago. But the Syrupmakers are a different team too. Angelo Pease was the man at the helm in 2008 and his first down scamper on third-and20 on Cairo's first possession of the second half to move the chains won't be there this year. Nor will Reginald Bryant's power running. Still, Eastside will have its hands full with Cairo's bevy of capable running backs.
"I don't think you can take anything away from that game," Hurst said. "There's only one kid on this team that played that night and that's Kevis (Bell). The rest of these kids were standing on the sidelines or weren't there. I don't think there's anyone here who can take anything from that game."
Two years ago, Eastside went to Cairo a relative unknown. But after six playoff wins in three years, Hurst knows his team is one big win away from being considered an elite program. A win over Cairo would certainly take care of that.
"We know we're the underdog, but that's okay," Hurst said. "We relish that role. I think we are going to go down and play to the best of our ability. And they (Cairo) know we're going to play hard. I think we earned their respect two years ago where they know we are going to go down there and play as hard as we can and we have the type of team that can beat them if they aren't playing their type of game."
Plenty to contemplate: Eastside head coach Rick Hurst knows his team will have to play its best if the Eagles are going to knock off Cairo tonight. The Eagles fell 23-6 at Cairo in 2008.
No. 2, 4-AAA
No. 1, 1-AAA