Eastside football’s BYE week couldn’t have come at a better time for the Eagles.
For the first time in 2019, the Eagles could enter a fresh week of practice with a win in the previous week under the belt. The timing of the Eagles’ first of two off weeks, however, meant much more in terms of the team’s durability than that of their win over Alcovy in Week 3.
Getting the Eagles healthy in time for the first of seven Region 4-AAAA games was at or near the top of head coach Troy Hoff’s to-do list last week, especially at the running back position.
“We want to get all of those guys healthy,” Hoff said. “That’s been one of the areas where Ramon (Hernandez) has been in and out. Terrence (Reid) has been in and out. He’s still not fully healthy.”
For an Eastside team that relied heavily on 2018 senior running back Taylor Carter, who rushed for over 1,000 yards and scored nearly 20 touchdowns, Hoff pointed to the lack of continuity at the running back position thus far in 2019.
Injuries to both Hernandez and Reid, the top two running backs on the depth chart, as well as the loss of tight end Colby Shivers, who will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, have played a large part in that.
“That’s a position group where we’ve rotated some younger guys in and have played a lot of guys,” Hoff said. “With losing Colby and trying to sure up the receiving crew and gain some depth there, it’s changed how we’ve had to operate. Anytime you lose a player of Colby’s caliber, it affects multiple positions. We want to get to the point where we have some continuity with those guys.”
The Eagle’s BYE week also gave Hoff and his coaching staff a chance to evaluate all positions on the field, something he said went very well.
“It was a great time for us to self-scout and look at things that we need to work on in all three phases of the game and have that time where you’re not necessarily game planning,” Hoff said. “We were just taking a look at us. I think we accomplished as much as we could within the time frame that we wanted to and we’re ready to get going this week.”
Hoff and the Eagles have now turned their attention to North Clayton, their first region opponent of the season. In three previous meetings with the Eagles, Eastside is 3-0 and has out-scored them 109-8.
Their past successes against North Clayton isn’t something Hoff can read all that much into, however. With a roster featuring several first-year starters, their approach to game planning will be one built on current personnel.
“It’s hard for us to compare anything to last year with our roster,” Hoff said. “Yeah, we’ll look for some commonalities and things they do. We always look back at last year’s film, but we’re just wanting to take care of ourselves and play good football. Start fast, play physical with the emphasis at executing at a higher level. We feel like we’ve left some things out there these first three weeks, so it’s kind of cleaning up where we think we can be better.”
While North Clayton (0-3) has not yet found the win column in 2019, their slow start isn’t something Hoff is ready to read into all that much, either. With several talented skill players on the Eagles’ roster, including 6-foot-4 wide receiver Onuma Dieke, challenges will present themselves, he said.
“They have good athletes,” Hoff said. “(Dieke) can go up and get it. He’s a good football player. They have some guys that can run and can challenge you in space. When you have a matchup like (Dieke), he’s a matchup problem with anyone that you put on him. We have to be aware of that.”
In order to defeat North Clayton, an emphasis will be placed on their ability to run the football, much like it has in recent years. But with senior quarterback Noah Cook in search of his first breakout performance of the season, Hoff said they won’t hesitate to throw the ball when needed.
“I think it still goes down to establishing the run game with us,” Hoff said. “But like we’ve always said, we’re not locked into a box where we feel like that’s what we have to do. If we feel like we have to throw to win then that’s what we have to execute and do.”
On defense, the young Eagles’ core will look to build upon a strong second half against Alcovy in which they held the Tigers to two touchdowns over the final 24 minutes. The Eagles have allowed 21 or more points in each of their first three games to start the season while North Clayton has not scored three or more touchdowns since 2016.
“There have been some quarters and stretches, if you go back two weeks to the Newton, we played really good football defensively in the third quarter,” Hoff said. “So it’s just building on that. It’s looking at what we’ve done really well and showing them the consistency factor of when you line up and do it right and you’re locked in on your reads and keys that we can be a good defense.”
With a win Friday, the Eagles would run their region-opener win streak to six in a row and their overall region winning streak to 10 in a row.
“The excitement level is there in getting to open up the region at home,” Hoff said. “That first region win is a big one.”