COVINGTON - Speed could be the key to winning tonight's county-rival game between Eastside and Alcovy as they tangle on the gridiron at 7:30 at Homer Sharp Stadium.
"The Tigers are a much improved team. Their speed is a concern," Eastside head coach Rick Hurst said. "I am impressed with how well they pursue to the ball. Maybe our speed will match theirs."
Another key to the game is Alcovy running back Malachi Outlaw.
If the Eagles can hold Outlaw to under 50 yards the way they did last year, that will put a lot of pressure on Alcovy's quarterback PJ Thompkins.
However, that may be harder this year as Outlaw is stronger and faster than he was last year. But Hurst realizes that as Outlaw goes so does the Alcovy offense.
"He's got to be the key. He's the leader of our running game. We have to get better blocking up front," Alcovy head coach Kirk Hoffmann said. "If we can get Malachi a seam he should make some things happen."
Even though Thompkins did not have great numbers throwing against Newton last week, Hurst knows that a lot of it was not his fault and that he can hurt them with his arm.
"Their quarterback made some throws that should have been caught. We will look to stop the run first, but we have a defense that I think is good against the pass as well," Hurst said.
If Alcovy is to beat Eastside for the first time, the Tigers will have to find a way to improve in the red zone and cut down on errors.
Last week against Newton, the Tigers found themselves inside the 20-yard line five times and inside the 10-yard line once. All they could show for their effort was a field goal.
"We had to correct some things but I feel that we've done that. We just have to come out and play hard," Hoffmann said.
"You can't make mistakes and beat good teams. We made a lot of mistakes but we hustled and that overcame a lot of our mistakes. If we keep hustling and cut down on our mistakes I think we'll see a lot of improvements."
Just as Alcovy has a few offensive threats, the Eagles also have the ability to put a lot of points on the board.
"Eastside's got the full package right now, they can run and throw. What you have to do is find a way to contain the speed and not give up the big play," Hoffmann said.
But before Eastside quarterback Justin Wray can continue to show his talents, James Johnson and the rest of the offensive line must neutralize Alcovy's defense.
"I am concerned about their defensive front. The (Matt) Gunnels kid is a real player. I am not sure we have anyone who can block him. He has all the tools to be a great player. Size, speed and strength," Hurst said. "If we do not take care of him and the middle linebacker (Bryan Daniel) it could be a long night for us."
While this game is no longer counts as a region game to determine a playoff spot, it still has big implications.
"I do not think it has lost any significance just because we are not in the same region," Hurst said. "A county rival is a county rival no matter how you look at."
Alcovy on the other hand wants to prove that their football team is improving and is able to play with whomever is on the other side of the field as the head into their third year as a program.
"The first year we went into a game just hoping we could play. The second year we had to go in and play quality football and hope that they played less than quality football to give us a chance. This year, because of the maturity and size factor, we just have to play quality football and not worry about how the other team plays," Hoffmann said. "If we play quality football we're going to be in there every game with a chance to win."
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.