It came when everything seemed to be going wrong.
After the Hawks committed a pair of holding penalties to back themselves to first-and-25 from their own 10, Elijah Ironside threw a short pass to Emmanuel Beal that became a 90-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown with 1:18 remaining in the third quarter.
That play gave Hillgrove its first lead of the game, and the Hawks went on to score 20 unanswered second half points to preserve a much-needed 40-24 victory Friday night at Cobb Energy/Hillgrove Stadium.
Hillgrove (7-1, 5-1) began the day in a three-way tie for second place in the region with McEachern and Harrison, but took second alone with the win, a half-game ahead of idle McEachern.
With the loss, the Hoyas (5-3, 5-2) fell into a tie with Marietta for fourth.
“When you have three teams tied together, it’s big,” Hillgrove coach Phil Ironside said of the win. “It gives us a chance (to win the region), and the kids did what we needed to do.”
Harrison got on the board first with a 3-yard run by Jonathan Fisher, but Hillgrove answered with a 3-yarder by Sonny Harris, and the teams kept trading points before Harrison took a 24-20 lead at halftime.
When the second half began, Hillgrove put the kibosh on Harrison’s ground game. The Hoyas had 153 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the first half, but in the second half, they had no positive yardage.
“Our energy wasn’t where it needed to be,” Ironside said. “We challenged our kids (at halftime), and they came out and had a great second half.”
Harrison made a huge second-half play midway through the third quarter, when Parker Kelly recovered a Justin Denton fumble after Denton made a 49-yard kickoff return.
But Hillgrove forced a three-and-out after Harrison retained the ball, and Ironside hit Beal for the 90-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive.
Hillgrove stopped the Hoyas again early in the fourth quarter when Bradley Chubb recovered a fumble, and the Hawks made them pay when Harris scored on a 1-yard run to cap a 10-play 50-yard drive.
After Harrison turned the ball over on downs on four plays, the Hawks put the game out of reach when Ironside hit Denton for a 26-yard touchdown.
“They’re a great team, and they made bigger plays than we did,” Harrison coach Matt Dickmann said of Hillgrove. “We were close, but I know that’s not going to count in games like this.”
Elijah Ironside completed 11 of 17 passes for 212 yards, with three touchdown passes to Denton, who ended up with five catches for 101 yards.
Tayvon Benjamin had 99 yards on eight carries for Harrison, with 96 of the yards coming on one carry that ended up being a touchdown that gave the Hoyas a 21-14 lead in the second quarter.