COVINGTON, Ga. — The difference between Homecoming joy and heartbreak came down to one play with one second left on the play clock for Eastside.
In front of a packed Sharp Stadium, Oconee County quarterback, Max Johnson, took the snap from the Eagles’ 10-yard line. Down by four, he quickly looked for one of his top receivers, CJ Brewer near the pylon.
However, Eastside’s Jamari Brown would not let the Warriors steal the game, as he quickly jumped in front of the pass to break it up and secure the Eagles’ 20-16 win — the fourth victory of the season, and a second straight nail biter-style triumph against the Watkinsville school.
“I had to win that one-on-one, because I knew they were going to test me again since they had a big one on me the play before,” Brown said. “On that play, I told my teammates we’ve got one play left and that on this last play, everybody has to put everything on the line to be able to win.”
It was a classic finish that brought back memories of last season’s thriller between the two teams, which Eastside won on a two-point conversion in overtime 32-31.
Former quarterback Austin Holloway and former offensive lineman, Will Shelton, described the play and the feeling after that win, with chills going down Holloway as he explained the epic ending that spoiled the Warriors’ homecoming last season.
This time around, Oconee County was looking for revenge by returning the favor of spoiling the Eagles’ homecoming. But it would not be.
A hard-fought game throughout, the Eagles would start on offense, but would ultimately have to punt on an initial drive that didn’t amount to much yardage.
On the Warriors’ first drive at their own 13, they would fumble the ball and Eastside fell on top of it. But Eastside would give the ball right back to Oconee with a fumble of its own that the Warriors middle linebacker would pick up and rumble down the field with to the Eagles 37-yard line.
That fumble would prove to be costly for Eastside as a six play 37-yard drive resulted in a rushing touchdown for Jarvis Stephens that would give the Oconee the early lead.
After an Eagles three-and-out, Oconee would take the ball own the field again in six plays, but were held to a 34-yard field goal.
The Eagles’ offense would finally come to life early in the second quarter. With an 11-play 80-yard drive, Harper would connect on four of six passes for 55 yards, including a 15-yard score to Jerry Mays to get the Eagles on the board.
“He (Harper) is playing raw,” head coach Troy Hoff said. “He’s a good football player. I’d be lying if I didn’t say we didn’t expect these things out of these guys since we see them every week. All night, he was efficient in running the offense.”
Harper would do it again on the next Eagles drive, along with help in the backfield.
After recovering a fumble by Oconee, Harper zipped passes of 29 and 28 yards, both to Jamari Brown before Taylor Carter would pound it in from nine yards out to put the Eagles ahead 14-13 heading into halftime.
Harper, who finished the first half 8-of-12 passing for 146 yards and a touchdown, was looking to come out of the gate swinging in the second half.
On the Eagles’ first play in the second half at their own 12, Harper’s pass was picked off by an Oconee defensive back. The turnover that Hoff noted wasn’t really Harper’s fault would turn into points for Oconee, who hit a 34-yard field goal to get up 16-14 midway through the third.
Oconee would look to take control after an Eastside three-and-out. Starting at their own 30, the Warriors drove 52 yards down the field before coughing up the football once again, which was recovered by Jamari Brown.
Just like his playmaking ability on defense, Brown would continue to show out on offense as well, catching a 32-yard pass on the first play of their next drive.
“Jamari does a lot of things well in all phases,” said Hoff. “He started doing that last year as a sophomore, and his role has increased in the offense. I think he’s just scratching the surface on what he can do as a receiver.”
Shortly into the fourth quarter, with the Eagles still in possession of the football, Harper would scramble from over 20 yards out to find the end zone and put the Eagles back on top.
From there, it would mostly be up to the defense, led by big time playmakers like Brown and Jaylon Lackey to put the game away.
With just 32 seconds remaining in the game, Oconee would take over at their own 49. On their first play, Johnson would find Brewer on a deep ball that he high pointed over Brown to get to the Eagles 12. A quick play would push Oconee to Eastside’s ten-yard line, but the clock was winding down.
In what seemed to be the wrong call, the clock stopped after Johnson clocked the ball. However, it looked as if he kneeled first, which should have allowed the clock to run out to end the game.
But the Warriors had one more chance, and it was a chance that Brown would not let them take advantage of.
On the sidelines, Harper who had a monster game with 202 yards, one passing and one rushing touchdown, watched with nervousness knowing the game rested on his defense’s hands.
“That last defensive stand was a little nerve-racking,” he said. “But I had all the confidence in the world with our defense out there.”
While the intense win compares to last year’s game, Hoff stressed the difference between the two teams.
“Last year is last year,” he said. “These are two different teams and different players. Every time we play them it is going to be a battle because they’re well coached. They play physical.”
With the win, the Eagles are sitting at 4-1 before entering their string of five region 4-AAAA games to conclude the regular season. For Hoff, he had one clear goal he wants the team to work on entering next week.
“I want to work on us,” he said with a chuckle. “Just us in general. We have a lot of things to clean up.”
Eastside will travel away from Sharp Stadium for the first time this season when they head to Druid Hills Friday night for a Region 4-AAAA contest. Last season, the Eagles defeated the Red Devils 49-0.