ATLANTA -- AJ Gray’s high school football career ended with a loss, and a controversial call played a key role in the decision.
The Gatorade Georgia Football Player of the Year was held to 122 rushing yards and 142 passing yards -- he ran for much more in his two previous games -- in a 27-20 loss to Calhoun in the GHSA Class AAA championship game Friday at the Georgia Dome.
The play involving Gray that drew the most attention, however, came while he was on defense.
Gray appeared to beat Calhoun’s Carson Brown to the ball at the Washington County 11-yard line a couple of minutes into the fourth quarter. The official standing nearest the play initially ruled it an interception, and television replays showed Gray to have both feet and a knee down before going to the ground, with a hand underneath the ball.
An official away from the play, however, saw the play differently and overruled the near official, calling it an incompletion.
“Man, I caught the ball,” Gray said. “That was just a referee’s mistake. The guy from all the way across the field told me that I didn’t catch it. I couldn’t do anything about it.”
Things turned against Washington County quickly from there.
The ball was returned to the Calhoun 49 for a third-and-17 play, and Calhoun converted the first down and went on to score the game-winning touchdown three plays later on a double-reverse pass to Brown from Baylon Spector.
There was controversy on the touchdown pass, as well. Replays showed Brown stepped out at the Washington County 1.
“They said (AJ) was out of bounds when he caught it,” Washington County head coach Joel Ingram said. “It is what it is.”
Washington County had no answer for Calhoun’s touchdown. Darius Tucker picked up the ensuing kickoff at his own 1 instead of letting it roll into the end zone or out of bounds, and he was immediately forced out. The Golden Hawks eventually had to punt from their own 20, and their final possession died with two minutes remaining when Gray’s fourth-and-5 scramble fell 2 yards short of the first-down marker.
“I couldn’t change it,” said Gray of the call. “So I just went with it.”