COVINGTON -- Eastside's defense is going to be challenged in a way it has not been in the past few years as the Eagles start Region 8-AAAA play at 7:30 tonight at Chestatee High School.
The Eagles (2-1, 0-0) defense has played well against the running game so far this season. But what makes Chestatee (1-1) different is the way it plays the run. Rather than running slants or sweeps where Eastside can use speed to neutralize opponents, the War Eagles line up and force it up the middle.
Making Eastside's task more difficult is not having the services of linebacker Marcus Griffieth. In three games, Griffieth is tied for second on the team with 19 tackles -- six solo. He's also forced two fumbles, recovered one fumble, intercepted the ball once and has hurried the quarterback twice.
"He's probably one of the better linebackers in the state right now. He made a bad decision and has to pay the price. But I'm sure he'll come back and be a better person for it," Eastside head coach Rick Hurst said. "It'll affect the defense, but he was also on special teams, so we'll have to put people in there that aren't used to playing. But we have guys that can step up and make some plays."
The question the defense has to answer is, can it withstand a constant pounding by Chestatee and make the stops without Griffieth? The War Eagles had three completed passes on nine attempts for 36 yards while running the ball 44 times for 210 yards in their first game.
"That's something we have to make sure we can stand up to. We have a lot of guys that have never played before, plus we have a couple of injuries and discipline issues," Hurst said.
In Eastside's first two games, it did not have a problem protecting the ball on offense while capitalizing on opponents' mistakes, scoring three defensive touchdowns. However, the tables were turned last week as Eastside was intercepted once and fumbled the ball four times, losing it twice, including one for a touchdown. It cannot afford to do that against a War Eagles defense that recovered three fumbles, while forcing two of them in its first game.
"We're still inconsistent playing offensively. That's something we have to address. Hopefully it'll work itself out," Hurst said.
"They have a big offensive line. We have our work cut out for us up there. It's a tough place for us to start but we're looking forward to the challenge. Hopefully, we can come out of there with a win."