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Eastside sticks with effective run game

COVINGTON - Eastside head football coach Rick Hurst wants to have a balanced offense when he plays Hart County on Friday at Pete Herndon Stadium.

But when you're averaging seven yards per carry, why throw it?

Before the Stephens County game, Broderick Alexander, Justin Wray, Git Aiken and Tony Atwater all have over 200 yards rushing in four games.

Alexander and Wray lead the rushing game in touchdowns with four each with Aiken just one behind.

Now that Rashad Hill is back at full strength, throwing seems to be less of an option.

"We're going to do what we do. We have Rashad Hill back and Justin is zoned in, so hopefully it'll give us the ability to mix it up, too. Anytime the throw's not there he has the ability to tuck it in and run," Hurst said. "We haven't had to throw it as much. When you're looking at second and three, why throw?"

Of course, not having to throw is different then not being able to throw.

Through the first four games of the season, Wray has completed 62 percent of his passes.

When Wray does pass, not only is he accurate, he also spreads it around.

Anderico Bailey has caught the majority of Wray's passes with nine receptions for 178 yards including a touchdown, followed by Antarrious and Alexander with eight catches each.

While the Eagles are good at mixing up their running and passing plays to keep the defenses honest, the Bulldogs are also good at it as well.

"They like to mix it up pretty well so we'll have to be on our toes. There's a lot of tradition up there and they're well coached. They lost a lot of players to graduation last year but the young kids they have this year are playing hard. They have a lot on the line just like we do," Hurst said.

Hart County has one loss in the region, so a win Friday would give them the advantage in the event of a tie.

While Hart County likes to run, the Eagles have to be alert for senior tight end Jeffrey Rucker, who stands at 6-foot-3 and weighs 230 pounds.

Rucker, sophomore quarterback Landon Beck's favorite target, has 14 catches for 186 yards and one touchdown.

"They do good job with the play-action pass. Their quarterback is young, he's made some mistakes, but he can move them down the field pretty well," Hurst said. "The quarterback may not have a good arm comparing to what we've faced, but he's got some good targets."

Even though Beck only has a 43 percent completion rate, 47 of 109, when his receivers do catch the ball they usually take advantage of the situation.

Through five games, Hart County has 641 yards in the air with two TDs.

But because he is young, he tends to throw ill-advised passes, evident with his five interceptions.

The reason the play-action is so effective is because of Hart County's ability to run the ball.

Not only do they have a good-sized offensive line, they also have a tailback who likes to get behind their fullback and cause havoc in the secondary.

"When he (John Blackwell) gets breaks in the open, he's got the speed to make a big play. So we have to do a better job of squeezing, playing the right read and hopefully we'll be in the right spot," Hurst said.

In five games, Blackwell has 318 yards rushing on 54 carries with four TDs.

If the Eagles are to stop Hart County's running game, they will have to find a way to put pressure in the backfield without leaving the ends unprotected, making them vulnerable for sweeps and swing passes.

"Our defense likes to bring pressure. Sometimes when you do that it puts you in a vulnerable situation," Hurst said. "We have to do a better job of reading their key. If we cause a pileup, make the running back stop in his tracks, I feel our speed is good enough to recover and get where we need to be."

The other thing the Eagles cannot afford to do is let the win over Stephens County affect them, especially when they face such a worthy opponent in Hart County.

"I'm concerned with our level of intensity after that win (Stephens County) last week. Anytime you have a big win, I think, you tend to have a let down. If we can avoid that we'll be OK," Hurst said.

"They're going to play hard, Herndon Stadium is a tough place to win."

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

SideBar: Eastside at Hart County

· When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

· Where: Pete Herndon Stadium, Hartwell

· Series: Hart County leads 4-0

· Last meeting: Hart County beat Eastside 36-13 in 2001