A spring scrimmage loss that yielded some second-half highlights was enough to generate optimism for East Jackson moving forward under its new coach.

The Eagles fell 34-14 to Apalachee last Wednesday, but responded with two second-half scores after falling down by four touchdowns at the half.

“I really love how they stepped back after getting punched in the mouth the first half,” first-year coach Cameron Petttus said. “I think that says a lot about them character-wise and we talked about that. That’s how life goes — up-and-down — so what are you going to do next? I think how they came out in the second half, I’m very proud of that effort.”

Apalachee did most of its damage with running back Shaan Cook, who scored four touchdowns — three rushing and one off a reception. East Jackson rising freshman quarterback Randy Smith threw a pair of second-half touchdown passes, one to Caleb Adair and the other to Marquese Greene, to close out the scrimmage.

Smith was one of three quarterbacks to see action for the Eagles. Hunter Hardwick started the game, and Gregg Huggs also played.

Apalachee raced out to a 27-0 lead at the half, with most of those points coming in the first quarter.

Cook scored on runs of 13, 95 and 10 yards to stake the Wildcats to a 21-0 lead after one quarter. Isaiah Starks found the end zone from 10 yards out (PAT failed) in the second quarter.

But East Jackson got on the board with a lengthy third-quarter drive. Smith connected with Shawn Cunningham for big gainers of 37 and 29 yards and later completed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Adair to cut Apalachee’s lead to 27-7.

Apalachee responded with a 44-yard touchdown pass from A.J. Forbing to Cook to push the advantage out to 34-7.

But the Eagles ended on a high note with Smith connecting with Marquese Greene for a 35-yard touchdown pass with 2:53 remaining in the scrimmage.

Pettus, who seeks to implement a fast-paced spread offense, said he liked what he saw in the passing game.

“That’s kind of how we’ve got it figured out,” Pettus said. “Hopefully, we can get these guys open in space like that and get them the ball. I’m absolutely encouraged by that. Of course, we’ve got to get a lot better, but the effort and enthusiasm is there.”

East Jackson will now devote its summer months to its strength and conditioning efforts and its 7-on-7 schedule. The offseason will include team camps, including a trip to state powerhouse Buford.

“We’re going to jump in the deep end of the pool and work hard against the big boys,” Pettus said. “So, that’s only going to make us better.”

The coach said the program, which is coming off back-to-back 1-9 seasons, must continue on the steps during the 10-day spring session.

“We’re excited,” Pettus said. “We know it’s a process. You just don’t go from the bottom to the top in one day but we’re really excited about what our kids are doing.”

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