Peach County coach: “A bitter pill to swallow”
Peach County High School officials on Monday asked the Georgia High School Association for its board of trustees to promptly grant them a meeting to plead their case about an apparently blown call that cost the Peach County football team a crucial touchdown late in Friday's AAA state championship game.
The Trojans trailed Calhoun High 10-6 with 3:40 left in the game. Facing fourth down and 8 yards to go for a first down from the Calhoun 22-yard line, Peach County appeared to complete a pass to the 5-yard line. The Trojan who caught it, Noah Whittington, lunged to the goal line, and the ball popped out of his hands as his arms stretched into the end zone for an apparent score. A referee ruled the pass a drop.
"To the amazement of everyone in the state of Georgia," Peach High principal Ken Hartley wrote in a three-page letter that he hand-delivered to the GHSA office in Thomaston on Monday, "the referee did not award Peach County a touchdown."
Hartley added that for "a championship game to be decided like this by one official is unacceptable. In a game of this magnitude, there should have been a consultation among the officials."
Video clips of the controversial call have been widely circulated on social media.
There has been speculation that the Peach County receiver may have gone out of bounds and then come back in before making the apparent catch, a move that can render a receiver ineligible to catch a pass. The sideline official, though, did not rule Whittington as having gone out of bounds. The Telegraph has not viewed conclusive video of what happened before Whittington caught the ball — whether he ran out of bounds or was possibly forced out by a defender.
Either way, GHSA bylaws do not allow for appeals of judgment calls by game officials, nor are those calls reversible.
If Peach County is granted a meeting and should the GHSA side with the Trojans, it is highly unlikely for the game to be continued to play out the final few minutes. That said, the GHSA could declare Peach and Calhoun the co-champions of AAA, but such a measure at this point is a long shot. It is also possible that the referee's call will stand.
In his letter, Hartley cited a possible precedent, a controversy in a GHSA baseball playoff game earlier this year, when association officials called for a third-and-deciding game after an umpire made an erroneous call.
"There is a devastated community in Peach County who feel like this championship was taken from them," Hartley wrote.
Robin Hines, executive director of the GHSA, told The Telegraph, "I'm not speaking for Peach County, (but) they want an audience with the board of trustees. And we'll work to make that happen."
Hines emphasized that calls like the one at issue in Friday's AAA championship are "not appealable."
He declined to discuss the play in question.
Reached by phone on Monday, Hartley, the Peach County principal, told The Telegraph that classses were going on as normally as possible at the Fort Valley school.
"We're rolling with it," he said. "We're just kind of waiting on a meeting."
He said people from as far away as Italy and Afghanistan had reached out to him in support of the Trojans.
"It's not some sore-loser" thing, Hartley said. "We owe it to our kids, to our community ... to fight till it's over."