Michael Pope, sports editor for the Covington News, covers Eastside football for his readers and answered a few questions about Mary Persons’ foe in Round 1 of the state playoffs on Friday. You can find his work at www.covnews.com.
Q. From looking at Eastside’s offensive stats, it appears star quarterback Noah Cook was relied upon a little more in the passing game last year while the Eagles have run the ball more in 2019, Is that the case, and, if so, why the emphasis on the ground game?
A. The Eagles have always relied heavily on their rushing attack but injuries on the offensive side of the ball hindered the offense in the early stages of the season. The Eagles have played most of the season without senior running back Terrence Reid and senior tight end Colby Shivers. Reid was primed for a huge year, but lingering injuries have kept him out of action. Shivers tore his ACL in the second or third game of the season, and he is a huge part of the offense. To pile on to the injury concerns, senior wide receiver Jeff Haynes was out for a couple of weeks with an ankle injury. All of these injuries forced other players to step up and as these younger guys have progressed the rushing attack was relied on heavily because of the Eagles outstanding offensive line. However, in the last three weeks of the season the Eagles have become much more balanced.
Q. Who are Eastside’s biggest gamebreakers on each side of the ball?
A. Jeff Haynes is the ultimate gamebreaker in every facet of the game. He returns kicks, plays corner and lines up at receiver and he is good at all three spots. Sincere Johnson and Dallas Johnson have emerged as an accountable rushing duo for the Eagles and Giovanni Macek has also become a strong target for Cook. Of course, Noah Cook is a gamebreaker that can hurt the opposition with his arms and his legs.
On defense, Trace Nicholson has emerged as an excellent tackler and coverage guy and continues to improve. Jalen Davis has become a strong ball-hawking safety in the Eagles backfield and Mark Jackson is stout up front on defense.
Q. How much of a factor will the punter, Ezra King, be should the game come down to a field position battle?
A. Ezra is awesome and he’s a threat for field goals, punting and kickoff. He’s usually good from 40+ on field goals, he can flip the field on punts and he does not have many kicks returned against him because he usually kicks it to or out of the back of the end zone.
Q. How does this year’s Eastside squad compare talent-wise with last year’s, which I believe is the only Newton County squad ever to go undefeated in a regular season?
A. The injuries have definitely hurt this Eagles team, but they have come up strong in these last few weeks. Their offense is full of playmakers and their young defense has become better each week. I believe last year’s Eagles squad was truly special but this year’s team has the ability to make noise in the playoffs.
Q. Since the Eagles and Bulldogs have never played, do you think Eastside fans know much about the history of Mary Persons football (Dan Pitts, etc.)?
A. I would say for the casual fans, probably not. However for those that love Georgia high school football, it’s hard to not know Dan Pitts’ name and the outstanding years he had at Mary Persons immediately come to mind.
Q. Do you have any good suggestions for local restaurants for MP fans to eat at before Friday’s game?
A. El Charro is a favorite among all people in Covington and it is right down the road from Eastside high school. There is also a second location that is five minutes away from the stadium off of 278. There are a few other good spots, but that is the restaurant I immediately think of when I think of Covington.
Q. Do you have a prediction for Friday night’s game?
A. I think it will be close because I don’t think Mary Persons’ record to be a true display of how good they are. I like the Eagles in this one just because they seem to be in a groove and have the offensive line to push teams around and get their rushing attack rolling, which will open up plays down field for Cook in the passing attack. I think this could be a high-scoring contest so I’ll take the Eagles by a score of 27-21 with a couple Ezra King field goals being the difference.