By Nathan Fry | Eastside Contributor
For weeks, Eastside and Greenville has been the game circled on everyone’s calendars, and this week it’s finally here.
Two Region 4A-II heavyweights that have been on a collision course for months will meet at Sirrine Stadium this Friday night. What’s on the line? Potential home field advantage for the upper state postseason, an undefeated region record, and a region championship as well.
More than ever, this is a week of large storylines and big names for both sides. Perhaps the largest story of Week 10 is the connection between Eastside QB Marshall Skoloff and his former school, Greenville. Skoloff started playing football in the Red Raiders’ system all the way back in 7th grade. Now, as a junior, in order to win a region title he’ll have to go back to his old home stadium and defeat his former teammates, all while the lights are at their brightest. “He’s prepared for this moment.” said Coach Woolcock. “It’s been two years since he was at Greenville, and obviously he’s done a lot of good things for us. He’s leading our offense – a pretty good offense. I’m not concerned with him being afraid of the moment or anything like that. Marshall will be just fine.”
Speaking more about those connections, Coach Woolcock said “There are some really good coaches at Greenville, some friends too. One of their coaches was in my wedding! When you look at Marshall going there too, there are a lot of things going on between Eastside and Greenville, so it’s going to be a fun game.”
This week, Eastside is playing for a chance to win their first region title in twenty three years. Now far removed from that 1996 season, it’s been a tough road for this Eastside program. The Eagles’ senior class has been especially resilient, as they’ve been through three head coaches and several other staff changes in their four seasons together. After all of the turnover that has taken place, they find themselves entering Week 10 with an 8-1 record and a chance at a strong run in the postseason.
Asking Coach Woolcock about how he feels about his team performing on a stage this large, he responded, “We have a team where there’s champions already here with us, and they set that championship mindset in our locker room. You have wrestlers like Augustine and Maholtz, and baseball players like Shirley and Erwin. There are guys in our program that aren’t afraid of this stage because they’ve been here before, and they’ve been successful in their other sports on a state championship level. They keep the locker room level headed.”
It’s true, as Eastside has had multiple state championship teams across the past few years. The one sport that they haven’t gotten close in is football, as the Eagles are chasing their first state title since the 1970’s. A win on Friday will certainly bolster the confidence of both the team and the fans that this is the team that can finally win that elusive state championship.
Previewing the game, Coach Woolcock stated “The way we prepared for Blue Ridge and Greer will be the same way we prepare for Greenville this week. It’s just another Friday for us.”
“I’ve been confident in our defense all year, just like I’ve felt that way about our offense too. We have some really good coordinators in Coach Ford on defense, and Coach Hoffman on offense. We have a really good coaching staff that makes me confident in this team. We have some players on both sides of the ball as well that have been successful this year so we feel confident in everything.”
After escaping a scare against Greer last week, look for the Eastside passing game to bounce back after a slower performance overall. The running game, headed up by 1000 yard rusher Max Louris, will have a tough task ahead as they face a strong defensive front from the Red Raiders. The Eagles have been able to average over 200 yards per game through both the air and on the ground this season, and if they’re going to win on Friday they will have to keep playing to the strength of their balanced offense, keeping Greenville’s physical defense on their toes.
Greenville is undefeated in the region for many reasons, but perhaps the most important is their defense. The Raiders were able to shut out Greer in a 16-0 battle earlier this season, and stopped Travelers Rest in overtime to win another nail-biter just weeks later. “I really respect their defense.” said Eastside’s head coach. “They have talent at every major level. They have a shrine bowl cornerback in Jalen Tate, as well as a linebacker that’s always on his D1 college visits, and of course we’ve seen what their defensive line has been able to do to their opponents this year as well.”
Flipping the script to the other side, Woolcock said “Offensively, they’re fast. They have a lot of speed. That’s the one thing you can’t coach. They have a really good football team all around and that’s something where we have to say, ‘Control what we can control and just take care of our own business.’”
Tasked with slowing down that quick Greenville offense is a ballhawking secondary and strong linebacker corps that has been racking up tackles left and right. While the Greenville offense stalled earlier in the season, they’re finally hitting their stride entering Week 10, and will be extremely tough to slow down, even for a defense as strong as Eastside’s.
Expect the Eagles’ special teams unit to play a large role again on Friday night, with large returns and a high potential for a blocked kick as well. Speaking about those blocked extra points, Coach Woolcock was emphatic about the unit, saying “Our field goal unit is headed up by Coach Green, who has been great this season. I’m blessed to be on a staff where everyone takes special teams seriously. Special teams was my first job in coaching, so it’s very important to me.”
In a game that could be as close as a coin flip, the only thing that’s certain is that all eyes will be on the Eagles and Raiders this Friday night.
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