Eagles enjoy first winning season since 2001

COVINGTON - The Eastside Eagles didn't achieve all their goals in 2007, but they are a far cry from the Eastside teams from a few years ago.

Back in 2005, the Eagles were coming off their second straight 0-10 season and had a 24-game losing streak.

Last year, in Rick Hurst's second season as head coach, the Eagles showed signs of improvement as they finished at 5-5.

This season, the Eagles turned things up a notch and finished at 7-3, falling one game short of making the Class AAAA state tournament.

"Obviously we are pleased with the first winning season here at Eastside since 2001," Hurst said. "As much as we are pleased, though, we were extremely disappointed that we did not make the state playoffs. That was one of the goals that we did not achieve. Our players and staff worked very hard to reach all our goals, but that is one that eluded us."

Eastside began the season with four nonregion wins, including Newton (31-0), Loganville (21-0), Madison County (24-9) and Lovejoy (23-16).

The Eagles began Region 8-AAAA South play with two losses to Salem (24-17) and Cedar Shoals (27-20). They bounced back for three straight wins over Heritage (36-29), Alcovy (24-3) and Rockdale (42-6) to earn the No. 3 seed in the subregion.

The Eagles then lost 14-7 to Clarke Central in the region play-in game to end the season.

Junior quarterback Justin Wray led the Eastside offense again this season as he completed a little more than 55 percent of his passes for 1,337 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also led the team in rushing with 748 yards and five touchdowns.

"Justin improved in one of the areas needed to help us as a team improve," Hurst said. "He did a good job of managing games this year. There were only a couple of times that he tried to force throws into coverage. That is why his touchdown-to-interception ratio improved this year. He is coming along, but he has many things that he needs to work on this offseason. He wants to be a complete QB that can hurt people with his arm and his legs, so I believe he will do everything he needs to do to help us win next season."

Andrico Bailey led the team in receiving with 34 catches for 561 yards and four touchdowns. Hurst noted that some other key contributors on offense included running backs Broderick Alexander, Johnny Norrington and Larenzo Echols and offensive linemen Jordan Ritchey and Kyle Durand.

While the Eastside offense did well this season, Hurst was impressed with how the defense performed.

"Coming into this year, I thought we would be able to score points, but our defense was of some concern to me, only because of the bodies that we lost the previous year to graduation and to offseason injuries," he said. "After the Newton and Loganville games where we pitched shutouts, I thought we had improved enough to hold our own within the region."

Some defensive standouts included linemen Aaron Terrell and Jamaal Maddox; linebackers Bo Childers, Maurice Gaither and William White; free safety Kaleb Pass and defensive backs Echols and Jamario Parks.

After finishing with a winning record this year, Hurst is optimistic about the future of the program.

"I think the state of our program is solid," he said. "We want to win a region title and make a deep run in the state playoffs. Those will be two goals that we set each year as long as I am here.

"We're losing a fantastic group of seniors that contributed a lot to the program, but I feel this junior class may be more talented as a whole. I like our sophomore class, and even though our ninth grade struggled this year, I think there are some players in that group if they will hang with us and get stronger."