Peach County coach: “A bitter pill to swallow”
A controversial call in the final minutes of the Class AAA championship game may have cost Peach County its first state title since 2009.
The No. 2-ranked Trojans were beaten 10-6 by No. 4 Calhoun at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but the game ended in controversy.
With 3:40 remaining, Peach County faced fourth-and-8 from the 22. Quarterback Antonio Gilbert threw to Noah Whittington, who appeared to catch the ball, take two steps and fall down as he stretched for the end zone.
The ball popped loose as Whittington hit the ground and the official ruled an incomplete pass. Video replays seemed to indicate the pass was complete and, if not a touchdown, Peach should have had the ball at the 1.
“That was the worst call I’ve ever seen,” Peach County coach Chad Campbell said. “To take the game away from the kids like that? Who knows, maybe (Calhoun) comes back and scores, but you don’t ever know. I’d better not say anything else.”
There is no replay in high school football and Campbell could only point in frustration at the overhead replays. The Peach County crowd booed again after the game when the play was shown again on the stadium’s halo board.
Whittington was distraught. The sophomore’s eyes were filled with tears and he kneeled on the turf. He was picked up by an assistant coach and consoled by a steady stream of teammates.
I don’t know how to explain it to them,” Campbell said. “How do you tell A 16, 17, 18-year-old kid that a mistake cost them the state championship? It was the call; we have to live with it and move forward, but it definitely don’t feel good. I feel bad for our kids the way they fought back and got back in the ball game and had a chance to win. Credit to our kids.”
Peach County’s defense forced Calhoun to punt and the Trojans had one last chance with 1:10 remaining. A first-down sack put Peach in a difficult situation and the Trojans could not convert on fourth down.
Calhoun led 7-0 at halftime when Brannon Spector intercepted a pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown.
The Yellow Jackets went up 10-0 on a 34-yard field goal by Elmer Gutierrez, a score that was set up when Calhoun recovered an onside kick to start the second half.
Peach County finally scored with 8:36 left in the game on Mitchell Fineran’s 50-yard field goal.
Fineran delivered again from 37 on the next possession, which began when Peach County’s Jaquez Jackson forced a fumble that was recovered by Sergio Allen.
The Peach County offense had trouble getting in rhythm for the first three quarters. Quarterback Antonio Gilbert completed 16 of 26 passes for 161 yards. But he was sacked five times for minus-28 yards and threw two interceptions.
The Peach defense was tough. Jackson, the Georgia Tech commitment, led the team with seven tackles, 2.5 for loss, and forced a fumble. Defensive end Jalyn Thomas had 3.5 tackles, three for loss, and three sacks.
“We didn’t play as well as we could play and still had a chance at the end to win,” Campbell said.