Tall or­der

East­side re­turns to Cairo fo­cused on the big prize

The Covington News - - Sports - Josh Briggs

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."

Josh Briggs/The News

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.

East­side

No. 2, 4-AAA

Cairo

No. 1, 1-AAA

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