COVINGTON -- It was defense that gave Newton and Eastside wins in their games last week. That could be the case as the two meet to determine who is the best team in the county at 7:30 p.m. today at Homer Sharp Stadium.
Newton currently has the lead in the series, winning five of its nine meetings including the last two with a 20-14 win last year and a 32-17 win the year before.
"Anytime you line up against a cross-town rival it's important," Eastside head coach Rick Hurst said. "I've been in some big rivalries; Americus-Sumter, Ware County and Coffee, Central and South Gwinnett. But this is by far the biggest rivalry I've ever been a part of."
"It's always a big game when you talk about in-town rivalries, bragging rights and things of that nature," Newton head coach Cortez Allen said.
While neither offense played to its potential last week, Eastside had the better of the two, gaining 287 yards compared to 181 for Newton.
Against Shiloh, the Rams had 138 yards on the ground with 80, a touchdown run by Javonte Williams, coming on one play. Newton quarterback Gmatreian Brown only had five completions on 15 attempts for 43 yards.
"I don't think we struggled," Allen said. "We had some good runs but we had a lot of penalties last week. We were able to get some things done offensively last week and hopefully we'll do a better job with the offensive line moving the football down the field.
"We have get to the point where our offense is meshing on both the pass and run games. We had some great opportunities that we didn't take advantage of last week."
In practice this week, the Rams worked on playing more as a unit to try to improve on last week's performance.
Eastside's defense was led by linebacker Marcus Griffieth, who had 11 tackles while hurrying the quarterback twice and recovering a fumble caused by Marquise Heard. Also leading the defense last week with 10 tackles were Shaquille Huff and Blake Rouse.
"It's going to be a challenge going against their two talented defensive tackles. If we allow them to spend most of the evening in our backfield we're going to have a hard time all night," Allen said.
If Eastside's offense is not playing at peak performance, they could have a hard time moving the ball against Newton's defense. The Rams last week had three sacks with Nebkabari Yobo and Johnny Calhoune leading the way. Terrell Truit and Tyrique Brown led the team in tackles with 10 stops each while the defense also had two interceptions by Keyon Matthews.
"They're very athletic and have a lot of speed all over the defense. It's like we're playing ourselves," Hurst said. "We have to make sure we maintain our blocks and get hats on all 11 guys and hope for good things to happen."
Against Alcovy last week, the Eagles ran the ball well with Chavis Griggs carrying the load, rushing the ball 14 times for 104 yards. Thrown into the mix after the injury of Alex Smith was freshman Nick Broadwater, who touched the ball eight times for 60 yards. Throwing the ball for a 60 percent completion rate going 9-for-15 with one interception for 95 yards was Cameron Boyd.
"I feel comfortable with Chavis carrying the ball. We have two underclassman carrying the ball with Nick and we get Jamondi Smith back. He's a sophomore and very exciting to watch," Hurst said. "It's just a matter of getting on these guys on blocking assignments and giving our guys a crease."