Following a week off from game action, Eastern Alamance’s varsity football team is chomping at the bit to get back on the field Friday night and exact some revenge on Mid-State Conference rival Northeast Guilford in the Eagles’ league opener. EAHS got off to a 4-0 start with a series of wins over local rivals Graham, Cummings, Williams, and Southern Alamance, averaging over 50 points a game while collecting a series of big plays on both sides of the ball.
Northeast Guilford, meanwhile, is off to a 3-1 start, with a season-opening loss to Eastern Guilford and former EAHS offensive coordinator Tony Aguilar, and then three straight wins over Ben L. Smith, Southern Guilford, and Ragsdale. The Rams went into overtime to claim a 22-20 win over Ragsdale last week at home in McLeansville.
Last season, the Rams hosted the Eagles and stunned EAHS, 29-15. Northeast jumped out to a 14-7 halftime advantage, and used their ball-control offense to wear down Eastern in the fourth quarter. This year, Eastern hosts Northeast in the friendly confines of Fred Brady Stadium for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff Friday night.
Eastern is coming off a bye week, which gave the Eagles a chance not only to rest up after a month of game action, but to work on improving each day without the pressure of having to specifically prepare for a certain opponent.
One piece of good news for EAHS is that senior running back Colby May has returned to full strength. May suffered a collarbone injury during the summer and was forced to miss all of August.
May’s return could allow the Eagles to move Elijah Burnette back exclusively to the secondary, although EAHS now has the option of May, Burnette, and Quentin Idley - all capable rushers - to attack opposing defenses.
Heading into the bye, Eastern head coach John Kirby explained that the Eagles would practice three days - Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday - while taking Thursday and Friday off.
“We’d normally take two days off (on bye weeks),” Kirby said. “We’d always take off Monday and Friday. It took me about 30 years to figure out that two days could also be Thursday and Friday, where you’ve got a long weekend. That’s what we’ve done the last several years. It’s worked out for us.”
One thing that Kirby made clear was that instead of spending the bye week preparing for Northeast Guilford’s old-school, possession-oriented Wing-T that gave them so much trouble a year ago, the Eagles were going to focus on themselves.
“We’re going to work on Eastern Alamance,” Kirby said of the bye. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Now that the Eagles are back in game week mode, however, they are spending extensive time in practice this week focusing on being disciplined defensively, not allowing Northeast Guilford to extend drives and maintain possession throughout the game, as they did last season.
Things were a little complicated for the Eagles during the bye in that the EAHS junior varsity squad wound up playing a makeup game at Williams on Monday, September 16. This meant that the varsity practiced alone on Monday.
A couple days later, on Wednesday the 18th, the Eagles held a 6:30 a.m. workout. With classes out due to a Teacher’s Workday, it allowed the team to get back for a day to the feel of summer workouts.
Kirby indicated that one of the primary focuses of the bye week was to work players around at different positions to help establish more depth. Knowing that there will likely be some attrition between now and November, the Eagles are looking to make sure they have plenty of players at every position in order to handle any potential injuries that could arise.
“Typically what we try to do (during the bye) is we’ll take a player like (senior lineman) Kendell Ruffin, and we’ll play him on defense the entire week. (Backup quarterback) Tyler Payne, we might play him on defense all week. And we might take a Tyler Pendygraft, who is a defensive lineman, and play him on the offensive line all week, just for depth purposes, for when we get down the line.”
Northeast Guilford’s offense is led by a promising sophomore running back, Trevon Hester. Through Northeast’s first four games, Swain rushed for 407 yards and two touchdowns, averaging five yards per carry.
Junior quarterback Clayton Patterson has completed just 20 passes for 258 yards through the Rams’ first four games, as the team’s focus continues to be churning out the yardage on the ground. Defensively, Northeast has shown improvement, allowing just six points each in the wins over Ben L. Smith and Southern Guilford after allowing Eastern Guilford 28 points in the opener. The Rams allowed 20 points to Ragsdale in last week’s overtime encounter.
For the Eagles, playing sound defense, avoiding turnovers, and taking advantage of their offensive opportunities will be paramount against Northeast Guilford.
Playing against a team that will be trying to take the air out of the ball and wind down the clock in an effort to limit Eastern’s offensive chances, the home team won’t be able to afford a wide range of errors - the same kinds of errors that cost the Eagles a chance of beating the Rams a year ago.
“Northeast Guilford, they knocked us off last year. (Rams head coach) Earl Bates, you can’t ever count him out,” Kirby said. “I think he’s an outstanding coach that does a great job. When you play a team like Northeast Guilford, they’re going to be methodical. They’re going to take their time. You have to take advantage of possessions that you’ve got.”