Playoffs on the line for Tigers, Eagles

COVINGTON - Tonight's game between Eastside and Alcovy has more implications than the right to claim the Newton County championship. It could mean a trip to the Region 8-AAAA playoffs as the two square off at 7:30 p.m. today at Homer Sharp Stadium.

While Eastside has a better overall record at 5-2, compared to Alcovy at 2-5, one team will leave at 2-2 and in third place in the Region 8-AAAA South standings.

Regardless of the hype and what's at stake, both coaches are trying to downplay the significance of the situation.

"For us, it's the next game. You take one game at a time; this game is the most important. Some games have more meaning than other games. That's just part of the nature," Alcovy coach Kirk Hoffmann said.

One thing the Eagles have to do is forget about the Alcovy team they faced last year. This new team will come ready to play and prove themselves.

"They're much improved from last year; they're not the same bunch. The thing that I'm impressed with is that the kids are really getting after the football and making people earn what they get," Eastside coach Rick Hurst said. "They're formidable, they've got a pretty good defense. What I like about what they're doing is that they're flying around. It's what we preach here. They're getting a lot of guys around the football."

While Alcovy's defense is something that Eastside will have to contend with, Hurst does not feel that it's going to be a problem for his offense.

"It's kind of like playing ourselves," he said. "We kind of see the same stuff defensively that we run. We see it all the time playing against ourselves in the summer and spring, so the kids know how to block that scheme."

When the Tigers have the ball, the Eastside defense will have to deal with a smart quarterback and a quick running back.

Alcovy quarterback Ryan Ledford has proven that he can throw the ball, especially to his favorite target, Eric Strozier. Ledford also can run the ball well as he's had several runs for more than 50 yards.

Even though Malachi Outlaw is not big, he plays like he's a giant with the ability to cut through traffic and explode in the open field.

"Obviously we feel like we have to take away the run. That's our No. 1 priority so we can get back to our offense as quick as we can," Hurst said. "We have to do a good job containing both of those guys on offense."

While one player does not make a team, Eastside's Justin Wray just might be the heart and soul of the Eagles. For that reason, if a team can stop Wray, which no one has been able to find a way to do yet, they can at least slow down Eastside.

One thing that might help Alcovy is that they have had two games with similar style quarterbacks in Salem's Terrence Davis and Cedar Shoals' Trent McGuire to learn what to do.

"I think if you look at all three of them when they played each other I don't think they stopped him," Hoffmann said. "You have to contain him. The kid's a special athlete; he's a special player. What we're going to try to do is slow him down and contain him. That's one of the keys for us to win is to try to contain him."

Even if the Tigers do what no one has done and stop Eastside's running game, Wray is also a threat when in the pocket. For that reason, Alcovy must continue to play disciplined football and try to eliminate costly mistakes.

"They have the ability to throw that ball to (Andrico) Bailey at wideout. They have a lot weapons," Hoffmann said. "We have to stay consistent and try to control the clock. One of the best ways to contain their quarterback is to keep him on the sidelines. We're making sure that every kid on the field knows where they're supposed to be on that call. We can't have any blown assignments defensively because of the athletes they have. They'll make you pay."

Manny Fils can be reached at manny.fils@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: Alcovy vs. Eastside

When: Today, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Homer Sharp Stadium

Series: Eastside leads the series 1-0. The Eagles beat the Tigers 42-12 last season.

Last week: Alcovy lost to Cedar Shoals 21-11; Eastside beat Heritage 36-29.

Records: Alcovy Tigers (2-5 overall, 1-2 Region 8-AAAA South), Eastside Eagles (5-2, 1-2)