Middle Georgia has plenty to be proud of when it comes to high school football.
The area represented itself well at the Georgia Dome last weekend, with two state champions in Hawkinsville and Northside and a third team in Washington County that put up a good fight but fell short against Calhoun.
Of the two days’ worth of football at the Georgia Dome, Friday’s action was much more competitive than Saturday’s games. With Middle Georgia having representation in all three of those Friday games, it was a fun day of football.
Hawkinsville’s win over Irwin County wasn’t the prettiest, but some timely play on special teams coverage sealed the deal for the Red Devils. And Northside was very impressive with the way in which it shut down Mays and its playmaking quarterback, Asahnia Aderhold, in the second half.
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That Washington County game? The events surrounding the Golden Hawks’ loss will be talked about and debated for some time.
I’m not much for going after game officials, especially at the high school level. They’re not getting paid much -- $96 per official per game during the regular season and $125 during the playoffs, according to GHSA bylaws. Even at that, however, there’s some prestige involved with working a state championship game, and a higher standard applies.
How AJ Gray’s interception of Kaelan Riley’s pass attempt to Carson Brown was ruled incomplete baffles me. Not only did Gray have both feet inbounds (only one is necessary in high school football), but he also had a knee come down inbounds. He had control of the ball with two hands, and -- this is the important part -- when he went to the ground he had a hand between the ball and the ground.
The official nearest the play ruled the pass an interception. GPB’s announcers called it an interception. Even members of the chain crew, who are not supposed to release from their position until being told to do so by on-field officials, had picked up their sticks and moved downfield. But an official away from the play ruled otherwise -- no one has come out and said if the ruling came about because Gray was out of bounds or the ball struck the field -- and things all of a sudden went back to the original spot.
A debatable call, for sure, but one that would be worthy of an explanation from GHSA staff. If this were the SEC a decade ago, a Rogers Redding statement would have been forthcoming.
What followed, however, was a simple procedural error, one that should have this officiating crew in the doghouse if proven.
I missed it live, the official GHSA game stats don’t reflect it, and I haven’t seen a replay to confirm it. But several people -- including a couple who would have no reason to tell me falsely -- said the line-to-gain sticks were misplaced on the ensuing play, and that Calhoun had a third-and-12 play instead of third-and-17 following the reversed interception. A pass to Thomas Lester just beyond the sticks went for a first down, and Calhoun scored the game-winning touchdown three plays later on a 40-yard pass play -- with Brown appearing on some replays to go out just before the pylon.
Would Washington County have won if not for those calls? I don’t think so. Calhoun brought a much deeper team to the game, and Gray and his teammates were running out of gas in the fourth quarter. But to have the officials play the role they did on one series in a state title game is something that’s going to be remembered in the Washington County community for years.
An argument can be made for having replay available for the state title game. GPB puts high production value into its state title game broadcasts, and I’m sure it can be done from a technological standpoint. But does the GHSA, whose executive committee has several longtime members who tend to like to keep things the way they are, have the desire to add replay, a move that might require approval from the National Federation of State High School Associations?
It’s an argument worth having, if it prevents issues like the ones that came up in the Class AAA title game.
Contact Ron Seibel at 744-4222 or firstname.lastname@example.org