By Gabriel Stovall
Eight Things We Learned from Jonesboro vs. Eagle’s Landing
1. Eagle’s Landing is not just a team full of fast guys. The Golden Eagles have team speed arguably comparable to that of Sandy Creek, and those two teams are probably the only ones on Jonesboro’s schedule that can line up with the Cardinals’ skill position guys and run stride for stride. But the impressive thing about the Eagles’ win Friday was their play in the trenches — a place where Jonesboro was thought that have a decided advantage. Defensive lineman Martel Waugh played like a man, looking every bit like the player his brother Terence — now with Kent State — was at Henry County. And the offensive line, while not breathtakingly spectacular, paved enough way for Antonio Gibson, LunDerek Craig and Justin Robertson to make waves in the running game. The trenches element is what has been missing in the Eagle’s Landing teams of old.
2. Antonio Gibson is as good as advertised. Seriously. You’ve got to watch him in person to appreciate just how special he is and how effortlessy he makes plays. Don’t just look at the stat sheet. Against Jonesboro he had 14 carries for 103 rushing yards. He caught two passes for 32 yards. And while he only had one touchdown, it was probably the biggest score of the night. It happened when Gibson took the opening kickoff 94 yards for a score. It was like he was announcing himself as THEE guy to stop. The fact that he’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball is a rare trait to have — even on the high school level. And Gibson’s definitely got it, and perhaps more of it than any other football player in the four-county Southern Crescent. But it is that playmaking ability that opened up the way for Gibson’s teammates to get their shine. That’s why I say don’t look at the stat sheet only. No. 4’s impact is much bigger than the numbers.
3. Eagle’s Landing is not just a one-man show. Senior tailback LunDerek Craig showed you that. Craig saw action for the first time this season after bouncing back from a knee injury. And all he did on his first touch was bust through the middle of a stout Jonesboro defensive line and find 44 yards worth of daylight for game-salting touchdown with 4:55 left in the contest. Coach Joe Teknipp once called him a game breaker. He lived up to his old coach’s words Friday night. If Eagle’s Landing gets regular production from Craig and sophomore tailback Justin Robertson — as well as receiver Starr Rawls who showed slippery moves and playmaking ability — opponents may decide to key specifically on Gibson at their own peril.
4. Don’t go overreacting, calling Jonesboro overrated. The Cardinals are still probably one of the best 10 or 15 teams in Class AAAA. But I’m convinced Eagle’s Landing is too. I voted them No. 10 in the Week 3 poll before this game was even played, because anytime you’ve got a playmaker like Gibson with decent talent around him, you’re going to have a chance to win a lot of games on the high school level. But as good as Eagle’s Landing played, even coach Shawn Jones acknowledged that if not for a few dropped balls by Jonesboro receivers, the result may have been very different.
5. Zerrick Cooper is a big time talent. Okay, so the Clemson commitment and four-star recognition makes that statement kind of a “duh” moment, but it’s still worth saying. I’ve seen Cooper twice this year, and although he has dual threat capabilities, he has a big time arm and is more dangerous being slippery in the pocket than just tucking and running with it — which says a lot to the Jonesboro senior’s football IQ. Even with his considerable athletic ability, he’s still looking to pass first. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops over in Death Valley.
6. Cameron Lewis may be the long term answer at quarterback for Eagle’s Landing. Coach Jones said he had no problem playing a committee of three guys — senior Tyler Heflin, sophomore Cameron Lewis and Gibson at quarterback. When asked if he saw any of those guys emerging as the go-to signal caller, Jones
answered very close to the vest, again touting the trio’s diverse skill sets. Gibson’s the slash guy. More of a “Wildcat formation” athlete who just happens to have a decent arm. Heflin’s got a big league arm, but struggles with accuracy and consistency. Meanwhile, watching Lewis play Friday and seeing film of him against Union Grove, it looks like the sophomore has the best natural feel of the position.
7. Friday’s Eagle’s Landing-Spalding matchup could be for the subregion. Yes, we know it’s early. But so far these two teams — and Jonesboro — have looked like the true contenders. I said in the preseason that Spalding may be the best team in Spalding County this year with Griffin in the throes of a rebuilding year (I know, that’s like a cuss word in Bear Country). But the Jaguars may be the best team in their subregion. Friday’s game at Memorial Stadium in Griffin will go a long way in determining that.
8. No team on the face of this earth deserved to win a trophy named after the late, great coach Joe Teknipp more than the Eagle’s Landing Golden Eagles. Enough said.