Class 5A blog: Eastside keeps finding a way to win

One of the teams flying below the radar this season is Eastside.

The Eagles didn’t even know they were going to have football when Newton County officials put the brakes on the season. They got a late start, but have endured numerous stops and starts to go 9-2 and have reached the second round of the playoffs, where they’ll play at New Manchester on Friday.

Eastside’s only two losses have come against country rival Newton (a playoff team in Class 7A) and No. 9 Clarke Central in the game that determined the Region 8 champion.

The Eagles have won in a variety of ways.

They’ve prevailed in close games. Last week they defeated Southwest DeKalb 3-0 when Jaydon Fain kicked a 17-yard field goal as time expired. It was the second time Fain has come through with a winning kick; he booted a 30-yarder to beat county rival Alcovy 34-31.

They’ve won by some big scores, too. They prevailed by an average of 28 points in their six region victories.

They’ve won with defense, too. Clarke Central is the only team in the region that has scored more than seven points against the Eagles. The shutout against Southwest DeKalb was their third of the season.

“We knew Southwest DeKalb was a very proud program, had great football tradition and we knew they were physically tough and battle tested,” Eastside coach Troy Hoff said. “But we had held our own with Clarke Central and took them to the last play.”

Eastside operates out of the spread, but still loves to run the ball – averaging 188 yards on the ground per game. Dallas Johnson has rushed for 1,204 yards and six touchdowns.

The quarterback spot changed four weeks ago when Jaylen Woods returned from a preseason injury. He has thrown for 682 yards and four touchdowns during those four wins.

The return of Woods enabled Dayton Green to move back to receiver. Woods threw for 787 yards and nine touchdowns in seven games at quarterback. Woods has caught 12 passes for 150 yards and one touchdown since the switch.

Eastside dropped down from Class 6A before the season starts. The Eagles have made the playoffs for five straight season and went to the state quarterfinals in 2018.

The Eagles travel to New Manchester for the second round. The Jaguars (6-3) won their first region championship by beating Chapel Hill in a winner-take-all showdown in the last regular-season game. It’s only the second trip to the playoffs for New Manchester.