By Nathan Fry | Eastside Contributor
The Eastside Eagles are gearing up for a tough game, as they take on the Blue Ridge Tigers in a pivotal road matchup this Friday night. With the season winding down, the stakes for every game are rising. Both the Eagles and the Tigers know how pivotal this game is for their seasons. For Eastside, a win will keep them at the top of 4A Region 2. Blue Ridge is looking to stay alive in the playoff hunt, with an overall record of 3-4, going 1-1 in the region.
Eastside’s Offense vs. Blue Ridge’s Defense
Statistically, this season has been off the charts for the Eagles. Quarterback Marshall Skoloff continues to air it out every week, surrounded by a strong supporting cast of receivers, while his running back Max Louris wears down opposing front seven’s with bruising runs when needed. It’s been a season of well-balanced play that has led to high scores each time the Eagles play. Skoloff is ranked 2nd in passing yards, passing touchdowns, and completions in Class 4A, while Louris is close to breaking the 1000 yard mark on the ground, scoring 11 touchdowns along the way. The Eagles are giving headaches to opposing coaches as they have to choose which side of the offensive attack to focus on, leaving the other wide open.
“Big play ability” is something that Eastside always seems to have going for them, especially after turnovers. It’s not uncommon to see wide receivers Payton Mangrum and Kodi Jones slice the defense down the sideline for a gain of 50, and when it’s not one of those two, there are several other receivers that have broken out across this deep offensive unit. When they’re able to pull these passes off, the run game gets even stronger as the defense backs off to cover the long ball.
Facing an offense that scores over 45 a game can be daunting, but Blue Ridge will have to buckle down and attempt to slow the Eagles lightning fast attack to a crawl. The Tigers have given up more points than they would have preferred on many occasions this year, especially during this past month of play. Giving up 80 to Chapman is no big deal, as the 3A powerhouse has been bulldozing its competition all season so far, but more concerning are the 40+ point games posted by teams of a similar caliber to Eastside, being Travelers Rest and Greenville. The transitive property obviously doesn’t apply in football, but if the recent region performances are anything to go by, there is not a large amount of confidence in this Tigers defense heading into Friday night’s meeting.
Blue Ridge’s Offense vs. Eastside’s Defense
Though they’ve shown flashes of success this season, the positives aren’t exactly stacking up on the other side of the ball for the Tigers. They posted an impressive 49 points on Berea two weeks ago – matching the amount that Eastside scored against the Bulldogs last week – but followed the breakout performance with a 48-0 beatdown at Greenville the next week. Momentum is something that has been hard to come by this season for Blue Ridge, as their wins have been followed by crushing defeats. There may be some hope for the Tigers to pull off the upset at home tomorrow night, but in order to do so they’ll have to take down one of the most vaunted defenses that they’ve faced thus far.
With twenty sacks and sixteen fumbles recovered on the year, Eastside is posting impressive numbers on both sides of the ball. The strong secondary is led by breakout star corner Jamen Louris, who’s amassed five picks, as well as taking multiple interceptions to the house this season.
Causing the havoc that leads to those interceptions, the Eastside front seven is anchored by Ben Maholtz and Michael Scott, who combine for over 100 tackles on the year, with eighteen of those being behind the line of scrimmage. The interior of the field is locked down by the Eagles’ strong group of linebackers, and the rest of the defense benefits because of it.
Bonus: Eastside Special Teams
Don’t be surprised if there’s a missed kick for the Tigers, and this has nothing to do with their kicker. It’s all about the amount of pressure that the Eagles have been able to generate this season on extra points and field goals. They’ve gotten their hands on a few this season, and have caused more kicks to go wide due to strong rushes from the edge.
Another big part of the special teams unit to look out for are receivers Kodi Jones and Payton Mangrum who have the speed and size to make defenders miss in the open field. Both have returned kickoffs for touchdowns this season, while punts are mostly handled by Mangrum who has been reliable for large gains so far this season, averaging over 20 yards per return.
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