Stockbridge coach Kevin Whitley is hoping to get his Tigers back on track tonight against upstart Eagle’s Landing. The ninth-ranked Tigers are coming off a 35-14 loss to No. 3 Griffin last week. (Staff Photo: Gabriel Stovall)
STOCKBRIDGE — Eagle’s Landing has been waiting for a game like this for a long time.
Sitting at 4-1 for the first time since 2000, and with a chance to beat a ranked opponent and obtain a 5-1 start for the first time in school history, don’t see it as coachspeak or hyperbole when Golden Eagles coach Joe Teknipp says there probably hasn’t been a game like this in the school’s 22-year history.
“We’re trying to take it game by game and week by week,” Teknipp said. “But this is definitely the biggest game of the season. And you can see that around the school. This could be the biggest game this program has had, and I think the kids know just how important this game is.”
That’s because the Eagles 4-1 start has allowed them to be in a place that they’ve really never been in. Win at Stockbridge tonight, and with remaining regular season games against Dutchtown, Woodland and Locust Grove, it’s not impossible to imagine a 9-1 Eagle’s Landing squad going into the postseason.
That’s just one year removed from a 1-9 campaign. In fact, Eagle’s Landing’s four wins matches the win total of the last four seasons combined. Which is also why Teknipp put away the cliches when talking about the good vibes his team’s almost unprecedented start has produced.
“Oh, it feels good. I’m not going to lie about that,” Teknipp said. “The kids are seeing their hard work is paying off. They’ve totally bought into the scheme and the concept of team play. We’re just being unselfish and seeing that this stuff works.”
It works to the tune of an offense that averages over 30 points per game — second only to Dutchtown’s 39 a game — and a defense that, minus the 28 points it gave up to Class AA No. 3 Lee County in a loss, is stopping opponents at an 11.5 points per game clip.
Oh, and about that game against a Trojans team that features three Georgia Tech commits and a load of talent elsewhere, Eagle’s Landing was in that one 14-7 before an early second half siege by Lee County put them away.
In short, Eagle’s Landing can no longer be considered the perfect homecoming opponent — at least not for this season. Just ask Stockbridge coach Kevin Whitley who seems thoroughly impressed with what the Golden Eagles will bring to the table tonight.
“Eagle’s Landing is a very much improved team in all phases,” Whitley said. “We know that just from playing them last year. They are very, very good offensively and defensively, and with the addition of the running back from Henry County, we’re going to have our hands full defensively.”
That running back Whitley is referring to is senior Sedrick Palmer. Palmer, who is being recruited by several Division I schools — including a couple from the SEC — has brought his prowess, not only as a running back, but linebacker to Eagle’s Landing and Teknipp said it has been a truly energizing presence.
“Sedrick has done a tremendous job just setting the defensive intensity, and making guys around him better,” Teknipp said. “Our defense has done a great job attacking and swarming to the football, and Sedrick has been the catalyst there in the middle. We couldn’t be happier there.”
Whitley will be happy if his No 9. Tigers can limit turnovers in tonight’s homecoming game. Stockbridge has averaged about four giveaways a game, and last week turned it over five times in a 35-14 loss to No. 3 Griffin.
Some of those turnovers can be attributed to a young sophomore in Malachi Brown, finding his way at quarterback.
“He’s a 10th grader,” Whitley said of Brown. “So he’ll make some mistakes. But the thing is, that’s getting old now. It’s game six now, so you’re not a 10th grader anymore. Make plays. You get rewarded for what you do out there on the field. But he’s a smart kid, a tough kid. He’ll be fine. We have the utmost confidence in them. We just have to take care of the ball.”
Whitley said that in some ways, facing Eagle’s Landing will be like seeing Griffin all over again. Like Griffin, Eagle’s Landing has a mobile quarterback with senior experience, two big, fast running backs and a couple of 6-foot-3-plus wideouts.
“You can put Griffin jerseys on those guys and it’ll look like the same thing we faced last week,” Whitley said. “But I think we’ll be better prepared to do what we need to do to have a chance to win. Sometimes you need a good kick in the stomach like we had last week. Our kids have responded well, and should be ready to play.”