It was shaping up as one of Georgia’s games of the year, a pair of talented Class 3A squads battling neck-and-neck for a state title. Trailing 10-6 in a defensive standoff, Peach County mounted a furious offensive drive against Calhoun County in the final four minutes of regulation, then connected on what appeared to be the go-ahead touchdown on a fourth down in the red zone.
There was just one problem: The officials erroneously ruled the catch an incomplete pass, and a would-be 13-10 lead instead remained a 10-6 deficit, which became the eventual final score.
Instead of a game-winning touchdown, Peach County turned the ball over on downs, giving Calhoun County the ball. The Trojans forced Calhoun into a three-and-out and got the ball back with 1:31 remaining, but a sack on the next snap essentially doomed Peach County, which turned over the ball on downs one final time with nine seconds remaining.
You can see the controversial play, a would-be touchdown pass from quarterback Antonio Gilbert to wide receiver Noah Whittington, in the video above and via a second look below. You can also see a still shot of Whittington extending the football across the goal line while still retaining possession below.
The controversy came in whether Whittington had control of the ball before extending across the goal line, but the fact that he took two steps with the ball should have made that deliberation moot.
“That’s the worst call I’ve ever seen,” Peach County coach Chad Campbell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “To take the game away from the kids like that…who knows, maybe (the Yellow Jackets) come back and score. But you don’t… I better not say anything else.”
Campbell wasn’t alone in his assessment of the call, and outrage about the play was widespread across the state afterward. Within hours a petition for instant replay emerged online. Later Saturday, Peach County principal Ken Hartley told the Macon Telegraph he sent a letter to Georgia High School Athletics president Robin Hines asking for a meeting, where he will presumably advocate for Peach County to be named co-state champions or, potentially, have the game replayed.
“We’re going to plead our case,” Hartley told the Telegraph. “I think we owe it to our kids. I think we owe it to our community. We owe it to our school. I mean I just think we need to fight til we can’t fight no more.
“One positive that’s helping us, too, with our case is that it’s blowing up on social media. I’ve had people calling me from California. It’s going nationwide now … Maybe we’ll get somebody to listen to us.”
Plenty have heard Peach County’s outrage already, and more are sure to in the days to come. The question now is whether the outrage and shock leads to something concrete for Campbell and his players.