ATHENS - Perhaps one more play and the end result changes.
Nevertheless, falling just 13 yards shy of tying the game Eastside lost a heartbreaker to the Jaguars 27-20 on Friday night at The Jungle.
Cedar Shoals (6-0 overall, 2-0 Region 8-AAAA, Sub-region B) scored four rushing touchdowns behind the likes of quarterback Trent McGuire and DeDe Lattimore en route to a homecoming victory over the Eagles (4-2, 0-2).
"We take a lot of pride in being able to take the ball and physically come at you," said Cedar Shoals head coach Scott Wilkins, "and we don't apologize for it. But by the same token, this Eastside team just flat never quit. They may be the best football team we've played this year."
After the game, an emotional Eastside head coach Rick Hurst reflected on his team's overall performance.
"You see kids lay it on the line like that and you can't help but be proud of them," said Hurst. "They busted their tail, but they would not quit. I tell you what, our kids (have) a lot of fight in them."
But in order for the Jaguars to win, they were going to have to do it without their second-leading rusher, Hykeem Hall, who suffered a foot injury during the first quarter. Obviously, somebody was going to have to step up, and Lattimore accepted and delivered.
Overall, Lattimore - a junior 208 pound fullback - had a game-high 146 rushing yards, including two touchdowns.
"He's a great player who plays extremely hard," complimented Hurst.
Combine the talent of McGuire, who rushed for 90 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns, and Cedar Shoals has a legitimate threat in the backfield.
"They're just outstanding football players," said Wilkins. "But there (are) five guys up there in the front (who) had an awful lot to do with their success, and those two will be the first ones to tell you."
If there were any doubts as to how Eastside would fare against the top team in Region 8-AAAA, Sub-region B they were erased after the first play of the game.
Johnny Norrington returned the opening kickoff all the way to the opposing 29-yard line - a 66-yard kickoff return - putting the Eagles in prime scoring position.
Three plays later Eastside led 7-0 after running back Larenzo Echols scored a 9-yard touchdown.
"It's (the) kind of game you hate that one team has to win and one team has to lose," said Wilkins. "I thought it was just a whale of a football game. Eastside scored on (its) first possession and made it look real easy, and then we come back and have to fight to find a way to get back in there. But I still think that's a dang good football team that's got an excellent chance to be playing in Week 11."
The Jaguars would counter with a score of their own during the ensuing possession. After driving nearly the length of the field, Cedar Shoals tied it 7-7 when McGuire scored on a 1-yard keeper on fourth and inches with five minutes and 35 seconds left until the second quarter.
McGuire would strike again in the second, this time a 25-yard touchdown sprint up the middle at the 7:55 mark. The score capped off an impressive 12-play drive compiled by the Jaguars.
But it would be the only points scored between either team entering halftime, as Cedar Shoals led 14-7 at the break.
After Cedar Shoals' homecoming ceremonies commenced, the Jaguars put together a 12-play package to open the third quarter, only to miss a 47-yard field goal attempt by Joseph Harrison.
The teams traded possessions after both Eastside and Cedar Shoals could not get anything going offensively. This eventually led to a dropped punt by Bridecous Aiken, which was recovered by the Jaguars. The turnover set Cedar Shoals up on Eastside's 30-yard line.
Two plays later Lattimore found the end zone from 12 yards out at the 1:49 mark. After the missed extra point, Cedar Shoals now led 20-7.
It seemed as if the undefeated Jaguars were in complete control at this time.
However, the Eagles would respond with perhaps their finest drive of the night, one that included 11 plays and was eventually capped off with a 5-yard touchdown run by Wray. After the extra point by Yanrick Tinker, Eastside trailed 20-14 with 9:28 left in the game.
Although it wouldn't be long before Cedar Shoals scored again, this time on its next possession. Thanks to a 64-yard touchdown run by Lattimore, the Jaguars led 27-14 with 7:39 remaining.
But the Eagles simply refused to quit, large in part to their sheer determination and courage. As a result, this led to a 15-yard touchdown pass from Wray to Andrico Bailey with 2:41 on the clock. A missed extra point had Cedar Shoals leading 27-20.
Eastside's defense held the Jaguars to three-and-out during their next possession, forcing Cedar Shoals to punt with 1:19 left to go.
Beginning on Eastside's 13-yard line, Wray took control with just 69 seconds on the clock. During the final drive, he was 2-of-3 passing for 31 yards. In addition, Wray rushed for another 33 yards before ultimately falling 13 yards shy of tying the game before time expired.
"He's a special player," said Hurst regarding his junior quarterback. "He's a competitor and he hates to lose. He wants to win just as bad as anybody here.
"But it was a total team effort," added Hurst. "Our offensive line gave him the time that he needed on our rolls."
Overall, Wray was 15-of-28 passing for 175 yards and one touchdown. On the ground, he added 75 yards and one touchdown.
"Our coaching staff did a great job tonight," said Hurst. "We were concerned about their pressure, but we handled it most of the night. I thought we put together a real good plan and our kids executed really well."
Wilkins acknowledged that Hurst, in his third year as Eastside's head coach, has made quite an impact in such a short period of time.
"He's the difference maker," complimented Wilkins. "Boy, I tell you what I thought Eastside played just lights out football."
Cedar Shoals will next visit Alcovy at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Homer Sharp Stadium. Eastside will travel to Heritage at 7:30 p.m. Friday.