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Struggling offense sputters enough to give Eastside 28-12 homecoming win

Eastside’s Anthony Henderson (5) tries to get to the corner before the Indians defense during the first half of Friday’s homecoming game at Homer Sharp Stadium. (Staff photo: Erin Evans)

Eastside’s Anthony Henderson (5) tries to get to the corner before the Indians defense during the first half of Friday’s homecoming game at Homer Sharp Stadium. (Staff photo: Erin Evans)

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Jomandi Smith (3) tries to get away from Lumpkin County’s Cal Thrailkill (1) following a pass during the first quarter of Friday’s game. (Staff photo: Erin Evans)

COVINGTON — A few big plays was the difference in Eastside’s 28-12 win over Lumpkin County at Homer Sharp Stadium on Friday.

The win over Lumpkin County (1-6, overall, 1-3 Region 8-AAAA) gave Eagles (4-3, 2-2) head coach Rick Hurst his 58th win making him the winningest coach in Newton County history.

The Eagles started the game with a 75-yard drive ending with a 10-yard pass from Austin Holloway to Evan House giving Eastside the lead.

Lumpkin County responded with a long drive of their own with Noah Cromer splitting the uprights from 22-yards out making it 7-3. After the Indians stopped Eastside’s offense, they drove the ball down the field field again allowing Cromer to make it 7-6 following a 27-yard kick.

Any hope that Lumpkin County may have had of coming in and ruining Eastside’s homecoming were quickly squashed when Jamal Hardge returned the ensuing kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown.

“Those are the types of things we have to have on special teams,” Hurst said. “We talk about it all the time and do a pretty good job with them.”

After giving up scoring drives of 13 and 10 plays, Eastside’s defense showed their intestinal fortitude as they did not give up another scoring opportunity until the third quarter as a result of a fumbled punt return.

“Defensively, I thought we played very well and did some good things. Especially after that first drive when we gave up a few yards,” Hurst said. “We made some adjustments and the kids played very hard.”

The Eagles defense came up with several big plays following the Indians second field goal with four sacks and eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

With 9:27 left in the first half, Carlos Hugging took the ball into the endzone from four yards out to give Eastside a 21-6 lead. The Eagles put themselves into position to score following a 38-yard run by Jomandi Smith. Smith led the Eagles ground game carrying the ball 11 times for 153 yards.

Lumpkin County took advantage on an Eastside miscue following a fumbled punt when the returner decided to return the ball rather than call for a fair catch. As soon as the ball was touched, the Indians return team hit the Eastside player forcing the ball to the ground. However, the young freshman responded by taking a punt 33-yards down field putting the Eagles in good field position.

“We had five ninth graders starting out there so it says a lot about where we are right now,” Hurst said.

The Indians ended up scoring on a 30-yard run by quarterback Daniel McCrary on their third play.

While the defense did a good job stopping Lumpkin County from moving the ball, the same could not be said about the Eastside offense. The Eagles were penalized nine times while completing six of their 17 attempts while being intercepted two times.

“It (penalties) keeps us from gaining any type of rhythm. We’ll clean it up and come back next week. We have to go to Walnut Grove,” Hurst said.

However, big plays again helped the Eagles as Smith was able to break through the Lumpkin County defense with a 57-yard run.

“It (win) wasn’t pretty at all,” Hurst said. “We have to improve offensively.”