POWDER SPRINGS — McEachern outlasted Hillgrove for a 19-14 win Friday night, following a controversial final play at the Indians’ goal line as time expired.
Hillgrove quarterback Matthew McCravy was chased from the pocket and ran for the corner of the end zone. He dove for the pylon and appeared to score a touchdown that would have won the game for the Hawks.
Instead, the officials huddled and called an end to the game, ruling McCravy did not score. It was not clear if McCravy had been ruled down before the goal line, or if he had fumbled through the end zone, but a replay appeared to show that he had broken the goal line and hit the pylon with the ball before losing possession.
Instead, top-ranked McEachern came out with the narrow victory, evening the Powder Springs rivalry series at five games apiece.
“This series, we’ve had all kinds of spectacular things,” Hillgrove coach Phil Ironside said. “That’s a tough way to win or lose. It’s awesome for (McEachern), but somebody’s always on the other side. I said (to the team), we’ve got to handle this adversity, show class through it, and that’s the best I’ve got for them. We’re hurting — I get it — but you show more in adversity than you can show in a victory a lot of times.”
Both coaches said they never received an explanation of the call.
“I have no idea what it was,” McEachern coach Franklin Stephens said. “I was waiting to see what the referee was going to signal. Once the football went up in the air, I knew the game was over.”
If McCravy had been ruled out of bounds, there would have been time remaining on the clock. Instead, McEachern stormed the field and came away with a huge region win.
Sixth-ranked Hillgrove (5-1, 0-1) got the opportunity to take the lead late after McEachern (6-0, 1-0) opted to go for it on fourth-and-long from the Hillgrove 16. Stephens said he did not want to give the Hawks the opportunity to block the kick, and he trusted his defense to hold Hillgrove on a long field.
An incompletion gave the Hawks the ball with less than 2 minutes left, and plays of 48 and 19 yards had them in the red zone. Hillgrove converted a fourth-and-long after three straight incompletions, before McCravy’s run ended the game.
The first half was a defensive battle. The game started with five straight punts before Hillgrove was able to crack the scoreboard.
After having a touchdown taken off the board for an ineligible man downfield, McCravy found Jalen Royals for an 8-yard touchdown to put the Hawks up 7-0.
The teams traded punts again before McCravy was sacked and fumbled, giving McEachern the ball at the Hawks’ 14 yard line. Denzell Moore kicked a 22-yard field goal to get the Indians on the scoreboard.
Hillgrove was forced to punt again on the next drive, but McEachern fumbled on the return, setting up the Hawks at the 28-yard line. McCravy found Trevarus Walker for a 14-yard touchdown to cap off the drive.
“Some ‘no-name little Hillgrove kids’ did some things,” Ironside said. “We rise up, play well in this game. I’m proud of them. I’m tickled to death, I really am. I’m hurt for them over the loss, but we’ll get there.”
McEachern didn’t pick up a first down until its last drive of the half. It had minus-2 yards of total offense before quarterback Carlos Del Rio-Wilson led the Indians 59 yards down inside the 20, and Moore kicked another field goal as time expired in the half.
Del Rio-Wilson led the McEachern offense in the second half, rushing 19 times for 110 yards. Jordon Simmons and Javon Baker scored touchdowns for McEachern.
“The adjustment coming out was to kind of get the quarterback game going,” Stephens said. “Sometimes, when you can’t move people, you’ve got to block them down and kick out. He’s more than capable of being a running back.”
McEachern will now prepare for a showdown with seventh-ranked Marietta next week.
“You can enjoy this one until 6:29 Monday morning,” Stephens said. “Once we come in Monday morning at 6:30, we’ll put this one to rest, and it’s on to Marietta.”