COVINGTON, Ga. — It was all smiles for Eastside on Senior Night.
Coming off a slow start against Jackson County last week, the Eagles placed an emphasis on executing from the opening snap. They managed to do just that against Walnut Grove on Friday night, putting the game away by halftime before shifting into cruise control for a 31-0 victory at Sharp Stadium.
“Last week we didn’t start real fast. We never felt like we were in trouble, but we knew it was important to come out this time and establish the tempo that we wanted to play at,” Eastside head coach Troy Hoff said. “We came out of the gate and played fast. That was huge.”
Eastside (7-2, 5-1 Region 8-AAAAA) had its first drive of the game extended with a fourth-down conversion deep in Walnut Grove (3-6, 2-4 Region 8-AAAAA) territory. A few plays later, junior running back Dallas Johnson burst through the middle of the field for a 17-yard touchdown to put the Eagles in front 7-0.
With three minutes remaining in the opening quarter, Eastside doubled its lead on a 4-yard rushing touchdown from sophomore Kenai Grier.
The Eagle defense never afforded Walnut Grove’s offense enough time to get comfortable. On the first play of the second quarter, their pressure forced the Warriors to crack.
Walnut Grove coughed up the ball, which was promptly scooped up by junior Christian Benson and returned for a touchdown. With 11:52 remaining in the first half, Eastside had jumped out to a 21-0 advantage.
Since giving up a season-high 35 points to Clarke Central, Eastside has pitched back-to-back shutouts and surrendered just three points over their last three games. The defense looked sharp to start the year, but they’ve reached another level of dominance over the final stretch of the season.
“I think they’re getting more and more comfortable,” Hoff said of his defensive unit. “We’re able to put them in situations to make them play fast. We’re communicating better and we’re sound fundamentally, which is where it starts. They’re locking in during the week and ready to play and it’s showing on Friday night.”
The Eagle defense came up with another fumble recovery at the 9:37 mark in the second quarter. They quickly capitalized on the turnover, converting it into points as Jaylen Woods hit Dayton Green in the left corner of the end zone for a 7-yard passing touchdown.
The score made it 28-0, but the connection between the two seniors was more meaningful than putting points on the board.
When Woods sustained a leg injury one week prior to the Eagles’ season opener, Green was asked to convert from receiver to quarterback and thrust into the starting job. He excelled, throwing for nearly 600 yards and six touchdowns in seven starts. But with Woods healthy and back under center, Green has been allowed to go back out wide for the last two games.
The result has been an offensive explosion.
“Both guys are at home when Jaylen’s at quarterback. That’s where they’re happy, where they’re comfortable,” Hoff said. “Dayton’s done a great job for us at quarterback. He played quarterback for just six days before our first game. But Jaylen’s prepared really hard to play quarterback for us. And when those two are both at home, we’re a different football team.”
Eastside junior Jaydon Fain tacked on a 47-yard field goal right before the half to make it 31-0.
The Eagles will try to lock up a first-round home game next Friday when they close out the regular season at Greenbrier. It will be a battle for the No. 2 seed in Region 8, as the Wolfpack took down Jackson County, 26-12, on Friday to improve to 4-2 in league play.
“We know we’d rather play at home, on our field, instead of hitting the road. Our guys are aware of it,” Hoff said. “We talked after the Clarke Central game, saying, ‘You’ve got to go 4-0 to get to where we want to go, but first we’ve got to go 1-0 every week.’ We’re in that spot right now and it’s up to us to take care of it.”