McDONOUGH -- Joel Ingram has watched his team in a similar position the past few years.
For whatever reason, the Washington County head coach has seen his team make mistakes that cost it victories.
“We found some bad ways to lose games,” he said.
The Golden Hawks reversed their luck Friday night, keeping Eagle’s Landing Christian out of the end zone in the final minute to earn a 24-19 non-region win in the season opener for both teams.
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“I’m so proud of our kids for finding a way to win,” Ingram said. “We have a long way to go, but we got over the hump, and maybe we’re heading in the right direction.”
ELCA, the top ranked team in GHSA Class A, had a chance in the final minute to win the game. After the Chargers cut WACO’s 12-point lead to five with less than six minutes to play, they moved the ball deep into Golden Hawks territory on their final possession. They got as close as the 12-yard line, coming up empty on a deep pass attempt to reliable receiver Davis Carrandi -- he caught nine passes for 151 yards -- on third down. Quarterback Dalton Etheridge rolled out and short-hopped a pass to Keyante Green in the end zone on fourth-and-7 with 25 seconds left, effectively ending the game.
“It was a pretty tense final few minutes,” Ingram said.
ELCA dominated time of possession throughout the game, running 63 offensive plays to WACO’s 34. But the Golden Hawks came up with two fumble recoveries and benefitted from a bad deep snap on a punt by ELCA to make up for the lack of possessions.
The muffed punt snap gave the ball to WACO inside the ELCA 20-yard line early in the fourth quarter. After a penalty, Golden Hawks quarterback William Walker kept the ball on a draw and broke four tackles on the way to a 25-yard touchdown run that gave WACO a 24-12 lead with less than nine minutes to play.
“It was bad tackling on a great player,” said ELCA head coach Jonathan Gess, who is a former FPD assistant coach. “He’s a beast. I saw someone said his ankle was hurt, but it looked pretty good in the third and fourth quarters. Bad tackling, though, on a great player.”
Gess said he was proud his team fought back, eventually scoring on a 10-yard run by Green with 5:51 to play. After forcing a three-and-out, ELCA got the ball back with 3:23 to play, setting up its final drive that ended in the incompletion with 25 seconds left.
Walker also tossed a 30-yard touchdown pass to Deonte Latimer to give the Golden Hawks a 17-6 lead in the third quarter.
“He’s one of the best players in Class AAA,” Ingram said of Walker.
The most impressive performance of the game might have come from Carrandi. Five of his first six catches went for first downs, and the junior receiver seemed to find an opening in the WACO defense every time his team needed him.
“We knew what he was doing, and he did it so well that we couldn’t stop him,” Ingram said. “They executed perfectly.”
Melvin Hill scored on a 36-yard touchdown with two minutes to play in the first half to push WACO to a 10-6 halftime lead.
Hill rushed for 67 yards on two carries and had hand in both of WACO’s first-half scores. His 31-yard run earlier in the game set up an eventual 37-yard field goal by J.W. May that gave his team a 3-0 lead.
ELCA answered with a 2-yard touchdown run by Green to give the Chargers a 6-3 lead. The Chargers repeatedly burned the WACO defense on passes from Etheridge to Carrandi. The duo hooked up for six completions for 104 yards in the first half.