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(VIDEO) HARD FOUGHT HEARTBREAK: Eastside falls to Woodward Academy after questionable call
Taylor Carter runs from a Woodward Academy defender and into a referee during a big play in Friday night's loss to the No. 8 War Eagles. Later, Carter would land on the short end of a questionable fumble call that sealed the game's fate. - photo by Daniel Doe | The Covington News

COLLEGE PARK, Ga. — Chances are there are quite a few Eastside fans who would gladly become advocates of instant replay coming to high school football.

A controversial call of a fumble on Eastside running back, Taylor Carter halted what could’ve been a game-tying drive late in the game against Region 4-AAAA foe, No. 8 Woodward Academy Friday night. 

Instead, Eastside fell 28-21 to the War Eagles in the game pitting the region’s top two teams, dropping its record to 6-2 overall and 3-1 in Region 4-AAAA, as Woodward improved to 7-1 and 4-0. 

The play in question happened as Carter caught a pass in the flat from quarterback Brayden Harper at the Woodward 30-yard line. As Carter turned up field, he was grabbed by a Woodward defender who reached around and pulled him down by the back of his shoulder pads in a play that appeared to be an illegal horse collar tackle. 

But then as Carter was going to the ground, the arm he was carrying the football with hit the turf first, causing the ball to pop free. Typically such plays are ruled down, as the ground can’t cause a fumble. But officials called a fumble and allowed the call to stand, and with just 51 seconds remaining, Woodward was able to run out the clock for the win. 

Eastside coach, Troy Hoff was visibly upset immediately after the game, but when he emerged from his team’s locker room, he was able to give the heartbreaking loss some perspective. 

Eastside football coach, Troy Hoff expects his fifth-ranked Eagles to be dialed in Friday night at Hampton with a chance to finish the regular season undefeated. -File Photo

“I told my guys how proud I am of them,” Hoff said. “They fought all night long and battled every step of the way. What happened at the end was one of those situations where we don’t have control over it. Was it a big part of the game? Yes. No I don’t think it was a fumble. But we had chances to make other plays. In a 48 minute game you’ve got other opportunities.” 

Indeed, the opportunities came seemingly from the beginning as it didn’t take long for the action to get fast and furious. After Eastside went three-and-out on its first series, Woodward took over and the War Eagles quarterback, Mike Wright fumbled a snap that rolled backwards 30 yards before Woodward recovered it. 

Eventually the drive would end in a Woodward punt, and then six plays later, Brayden Harper hooked up with Jerry Mays for a 24 yard scoring strike to give Eastside a 7-0 lead at the 6:03 mark in the first quarter. 

Woodward would respond quickly, though. It happened when Wright bolted out of the pocket on a scramble and darted 46 yards to the end zone to knot the score at 7 at the 3:20 mark in the first quarter.

As the game went on, center-to-quarterback exchange issues and overall ball security in general dogged both teams in the first half. On one play in particular, Eastside had the ball on 3rd and 4 while driving with some run game momentum, but a bad shotgun snap turned into a 10-yard loss and a punting situation for the Eagles. 

Then, right before the half, Wright found wideout Jacorrei Turner on a 1st and 10 play from the Eastside 13-yard line. Turner caught the pass, broke a tackle and looked to be headed for a touchdown, until he fumbled the ball through the end zone and out of bounds, resulting in an Eastside touchback. 

The Eagles, content with the 7-7 tie, would instruct Harper to take a knee and head to halftime. 

In the second half, Woodward decided to consistently feed its all-everything tailback, Tahj Gary who touched the ball on each snap in a nine-play, 74-yard drive that he capped off himself with a six-yard stroll into the end zone. 

Eastside would counter with a 12-play, 78 yard, run-heavy, up-tempo drive that completely wore down the Woodward defense. It climaxed with a 9-yard Davis run that knotted things up at 14 at the 10:14 mark of the fourth quarter. The fatigue that set in on Woodward Academy’s defensive front seven was something Hoff said he banked on in preparation during the week.

“We got them in some good looks, and we thought coming in that we could run the football,” he said. “It looked like we started to wear them down. Our o-line did a good job. Our backs were bringing it down hill hard. Wide receivers were blocking. That’s the only way you can break big gains like that consistently.” 

Hoff said the way his running game pounded a quality opponent made him even more confident about how good the ground attack can be. 

“When you’re doing that against this kind of a front, it shows that we can run the football against anybody,” he said.

However, Woodward would strike back quickly after the methodical Eastside drive, with a 78-yard touchdown on a screen pass to Gary who caught the short throw and streaked down the left sideline, running away from the entire Eastside defense, promptly putting the War Eagles back on top, 21-14.

Not to be out done, on Eastside’s first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive, Davis bolted through the Woodward defense for 58 yards. Four plays later he scooted for another 11 yards to set up a 1st and goal on the Woodward 1. From there, Harper pushed in for the score to tie it up again at 21 with 7:03 left in regulation. 

Woodward’s final touchdown came at the conclusion of a 12-play, 74-yard drive where Gary touched the ball seven times, including an improbable 21-yard touchdown run where the junior broke through two Eastside defenders and literally drug another about 10 yards to the end zone, providing what would turn out to be the final margin at the 1:32 mark of the fourth quarter. 

That was before all the officiating fun began. But though Hoff and company were hurt by the loss, Hoff says a let down in their next game two weeks from now was the least of his concerns. 

“I’m not worried about that,” Hoff said. “They’re fighters. We go into the bye week next week. We’re obviously gonna be able to think about it. But the good thing is it gives us time to regroup and reload. We’re a team that keeps coming back, so I’m not worried about that. We’ll move on and we’ll be alright. We have no other choice.”