Dozens of Peach County High School football players, coaches and supporters packed a conference room here Monday at the Georgia High School Association headquarters to air concerns over an apparently blown call in the AAA title game Dec. 8 in Atlanta.
Calhoun High won the game 10-6, but only after Peach appeared to score a late go-ahead touchdown that was ruled an incomplete pass by a referee. Peach County receiver Noah Whittington stuck the ball across the goal line, but it popped out of his hand as he hit the turf.
Tension and disappointment from the controversial call was still palpable at Monday's gathering, where head coach Chad Campbell, his voice breaking at times as tears welled in his eyes, stood for more than 40 minutes and pleaded his team's case. Campbell declared the call, which came with a little less than 4 minutes left in the game, "a blatant, astronomical mistake."
To correct it, Campbell said his team wants either to be declared co-champion or, unlikely as it is, to play the last few minutes of the game from the point of the bad call.
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"We'll go out and play on the concrete," Campbell said. "We think we deserve something."
The GHSA panel of 11 board members looked on and said nothing. Only board President Glenn D. White spoke to the gathering, only to say that Peach County's case would be considered, but that no decision or ruling on the matter was necessarily pending.
GHSA attorney Alan Connell of Thomaston addressed the crowd, but he noted that "there is no appeal" under association rules and that it was "an informational meeting only. There won't be any action at this meeting."
The matter will be taken up at a later meeting, but that date hasn't been set and it wasn't clear when Monday's meeting ended what, if any, decision will be made about the play in question. It is likely the call will stand.
In his speech to the board, Campbell said the call "was a mistake that was seen by people all over the state and the nation." He said he thinks officials failed to work together to get the call correct.
Campbell said that when he asked the referee who made the call if he could speak to the referee in charge, "he blew me off. ... Just like it was another call. ... It's not just another call. ... Nah, it ain't another call. It was a call that was viewed nationwide. And every day I go somewhere I hear it. And being in that locker room with 85 kids trying to explain to them what happened, you don't want to know what it's like."
The coach said four officials on the field were "in clear position" to make the call or possibly overrule the incompletion and declare it a touchdown.
"It's very sickening. It was a very, very awful night for those 85 kids who worked their behind off," Campbell said. "And for that kid who caught that ball and scored, who sat in that locker after that ballgame and thought he let his teammates down. I wish you could have seen it. I wish you would have been the one who had to console him."
Campbell often referred to the sometimes-heard refrain, "It's a bad call, deal with it," when referees err. Campbell, however, insisted that, no, this one must be addressed and remedied.
Another bad call? "Bull crap," the coach said. "I've watched it a million times," Campbell said. "And not for one second did they try to get this call right. ... These kids deserve better than 'it's a bad call, move on.'"
He held up a poster and held it up for board members to see, his arms stretched wide, that showed Whittington reaching over the goal line. "Determination," the poster reads.
"We're gonna hang this up all over the school building," Campbell said. He later emphasized how the official who made the controversial no-catch call had refused his request to call in other referees for help.
"I tried to get him to get it right," Campbell said, adding later, "and for me to ask the official on two separate occasions, 'Can I talk to (the head official)?' and him blow me off like I'm not there. That's crap. Pure crap."
When the crowd realized no decision on the matter, no resolution was forthcoming, someone sitting near the back of the room said, "They just want it to go away."