When Eastside alum Harold ‘Gator’ Hoskins was hired as the Rams’ head coach in the spring, the one thing he wanted to do was bring back the winning tradition Eastside had when he played in the mid-2000s.
Following Eastside’s 26-0 win against visiting Keystone Heights on Thursday night at Citizens Field, the Rams are 2-0 for the first time since 2009.
“I’m excited for those guys,” Hoskins said. “They came out here and played their hearts out. They kept fighting even when they faced adversity.”
The Rams won the coin toss and marched 67 yards down the field, capping the drive on a 4-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Holden Johnson to sophomore wide receiver Davion Pugh for a 6-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
It was one of four touchdown passes for Johnson, who threw a 91-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline to Antoneo Wilson for a 13-0 lead with 6:55 to play in the opening half.
Johnson had just 10 touchdown passes last year as a junior. He has seven scoring tosses in his first two games this season.
“We just tell him to take what the defense gives you,” Hoskins said. “You don’t have to be Superman out there. We’ve got some talented guys around him, some receivers who can go get the ball, and just take advantage of match-ups. Man, he’s been playing lights out lately.”
Wilson only caught four passes, but the junior had a big game with 170 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
“The key was taking advantage of every opportunity we had and execute it the way the coaches planned it this week,” Wilson said.
Wilson also had an 11-yard first down grab on Eastside’s third scoring drive, which ended with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to junior Antonio Hubbert for a 20-0 lead with 54 seconds to play in the first half.
“Over the summer I just let him (Wilson) know, ‘you are a guy. You are special and go prove it,’ and that’s what he’s been doing,” Hoskins said.
Meanwhile, the defense pitched its first shutout since a 64-0 win at Central (Brooksville) in 2018.
“Oh man, the defense played great,” Hoskins said. “We’ve still got to pick up on the little things. Shout out to the defensive coaching staff. They put those guys in great positions to be successful tonight and those guys played hard.”
The Indians (0-1) opened the second half with a drive that consumed almost seven minutes off the third quarter clock.
However, junior running back Trey Jeffries fumbled and Eastside’s Charles Sawyer recovered at the Eastside 38-yard line, ultimately ending any chance Keystone had of getting back in the game.
Keystone had a dozen runs of five yards or more, but they couldn’t sustain it because of miscues or fumbled snaps.
“I thought our kids battled,” said Keystone Heights coach Chuck Dickinson. “That’s a good football team. Eastside is very improved. The quarterback is good and we knew we would have some problems covering them in the passing game.”
The Rams ended the scoring with Holden’s fourth touchdown pass —a 15-yard score by senior Jemall Dix who caught the ball at the 10-yard line and weaved his way into the end zone.
Keystone Heights will travel to Fort White next Friday, Sept. 9, while Eastside will host rival Buchholz.
“We’ll celebrate tonight, put our head down and go back to work,” Hoskins said. “It’s a big game next week only because it’s the next game. We look at every opponent the same. We’ll be ready to play.”