COVINGTON - Stopping Clarke Central's Darreion Robinson on Friday at Billy Henderson Stadium could mean the difference between the Eastside Eagles ending their season or advancing to the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs.
What makes it possible for Robinson and fullback Terrence Scruggs, who gained 208 yards against Jackson County, to establish a running game is an experienced front line averaging 268 pounds.
Four of the 12 offensive linemen on the roster are seniors; another four are juniors.
"Their line is absolutely monstrous," Eastside coach Rick Hurst said. "The key for us is not let those big guys get ahold of us. If they lock on to us and we don't play low, we're in for a long night."
In Robinson's last game against Winder-Barrow, he ran for 198 yards with two touchdowns. He could have run up 270 yards in three quarters of play, but a 72-yard touchdown run was called back thanks to a penalty.
Robinson and the rest of the team had two weeks to rest and get ready for the Eagles. While having a week off might seem like an advantage, Hurst said it doesn't have to be.
"It can work in two ways. There's a chance for you to get healthy and recuperate, but it can throw your timing off a little bit, too. Hopefully, it'll throw their timing off," he said.
Robinson, who has committed to Georgia Southern, took over as Clarke Central's all-time rushing leader with his performance against Winder-Barrow.
In his four years as a running back, he has 3,873 rushing yards with one more game left in the regular season. The previous record of 3,848 yards was held by Kenny Brown, who played from 1984-1987.
Although the Eagles have not faced anyone of Robinson's caliber, the key to stopping him is the same as any other ball carrier - bring him down when you have the chance.
"You don't stop that kind of back, you have to hope that you limit the times that he gets it in the end zone," Hurst said. "That's going to be our key. When he touches it, getting everybody to him. It's like we've said all week, if you can't get him to the ground, lock on and hold on for dear life then the rest of us will come over and help."
Making sure Clarke Central's running game does not hurt Eastside will be up to their front seven, including Bo Childers, Maurice Gaither and William White. The three linebackers have combined for 160 stops.
If the Eagles can stop the run and force Clarke Central to throw, it will keep the Gladiators from doing what makes them so successful.
"If they have to throw the football, they're not doing what they want to do. Our goal is to make them throw and defend the pass when we have to, but we're going to try to stop that run," Hurst said. "Our corners have played very well in the last couple of weeks. I told them all, 'You worry about the pass and let the other nine play the run.'"
The Eastside secondary has broken up 36 passes with five interceptions.
The Eagles' offensive matches up well against Clarke Central. Unlike the Gladiators, who are primarily a running team, the Eagles like to mix it up.
So far this season, the Eagles have run the ball 65 percent of the time with 12 different people touching the ball. Eastside's 90 pass completions have gone to 11 different receivers.
While both teams have proven throughout the season that they can score, averaging 26 points per game, the Gladiators' defense is allowing seven points more a game than Eastside - 19 compared to 12.
In order to keep the Gladiators from scoring as many points as Eastside, the Eagles are going to have to manage the clock well.
"If we can score on one play, that's fine, but I'd rather have a 10-play, five or six-minute drive that will take some time off the clock," Hurst said. "That's the best defense we can have is to keep the Robinson kid off the field."
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: Eastside at Clarke Central
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Billy Henderson Stadium, Athens
Series: Clarke Central leads the series 4-0; last meeting was Oct. 14, 2005, when Clarke Central won 45-22
Last week: Eastside beat Rockdale 42-6; Clarke Central had a bye
Records: Eastside (7-2 overall, 3-2 8-AAAA South), Clarke Central (6-2-1, 5-1 8-AAAA North)