COVINGTON, Ga. — The Eastside Eagles season came down to the very final play of the contest, and they fell just short of tying the game and sending it into overtime in their 28-21 loss against the Mary Persons Bulldogs in the first round of the AAAA high school playoffs.
With 5 seconds left and the ball on Mary Persons 24-yard line, Noah Cook took the snap in the shotgun and scrambled left looking for an open man downfield. With pressure barreling in on Cook, he threw a pass to an open Kenai Greer, who was stopped at the 13-yard line with the clock at zero.
The sequence of events that led up to this final play was a roller coaster ride for both sidelines.
The Eagles held the lead for much of the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs broke through with just 2:14 left to play on the clock, and it seemed the Eagles would get the ball with the game knotted up at 21.
An outstanding special teams play by the Eagles changed the narrative as they broke through and blocked the Bulldogs extra point. With the Bulldogs trailing the Eagles by one point and just a little over two minutes left on the ball game, an outside kick attempt seemed imminent.
The Bulldogs' attempt seemed to fall in the hands of the Eagles player, with one player from Eastside emerging with the football. However, after a discussion between the officials, the Bulldogs were awarded possession of the football.
The play happened near the Bulldogs sideline, so it was unclear what occurred on that play. Eagles head coach Troy Hoff said he was not given an explanation on what may have happened on that play that resulted in the Bulldogs earning the football.
"Yeah, I didn't get an explanation, so I don't know," Hoff said. "We had our front moved up because their kicks were short, we know that's what they've been doing with their guy. I thought we had the football, but no, I didn't get an explanation."
The Bulldogs would take the ball from the Eagles 42-yard line and drive down the field as they chewed up clock. With 35 seconds left, Bulldogs freshman quarterback Logan Hickman found senior wide receiver Trippe Moore in the corner of the end zone on a 17-yard touchdown pass that would give them a 26-21 lead.
With stud running back Enrico Harden lined up in the Wildcat for the 2-point conversion, he would take the snap, scramble right and find a receiver in the right side of the end zone to give the Bulldogs a 28-21 lead.
Eagles senior quarterback Noah Cook would drive all the way down the field and get the Eagles to the 24-yard line before that final play of the game that would ultimately result in ending the Eagles season.
Hoff knows some of these plays were pivotal to the outcome of the game, but knows they had opportunities they missed in the early stages that could have put them in a better position to win.
"Tonight, they just made a couple more plays than we did at the end," Hoff said. "There's going to be a lot of them with opportunities. You can't point your finger at just one right now. There were times when we probably could have got more points or moved the ball better in the first half."
The Eagles had the early lead and actually took advantage of a huge opportunity when they forced a fumble on their first punt of the game and recovered it on the Bulldogs 37-yard line. The Eagles quickly scored as Noah Cook found Jeff Haynes on a deep 37-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the drive.
Although that touchdown ended up being the Eagles only score of the first half, whenever Ezra King punted the ball, he pinned the Bulldogs deep in their own territory. Hoff was pleased with King, but not surprised by his performance.
"Ezra has done that all year, and we use him as a weapon with field position," said Hoff. "That punt team with him, leading that with placing the ball and pinning them deep, he made them earn it. Instead of going 60 yards, they have to go 80-plus and in a couple of cases, 90-plus."
King pinned them within their own 10-yard line on two occasions in the first half, but that did not hinder the Bulldogs as both of their first-half scores came on 90-plus-yard drives. Their first score of the game came on an 11-play drive that was capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by Harden.
After that score a few drives later, Ezra King pinned the Bulldogs on their own 2-yard line, this time punting the ball to the 2-yard line. The Bulldogs would slowly but surely march down the field and put another touchdown on the board to take the 14-7 lead in the half.
The Eagles owned the third quarter and got their offense going as running back Sincere Johnson rushed one score in and caught another touchdown pass to put the Eagles up 21-14 heading into the fourth quarter.
Late in the fourth quarter was when the roller coaster ride began, and it would end unfavorably for the Eagles.
This loss is not only the end of the Eagles season but also the end of many pivotal Eagles seniors’ high school football careers. Hoff had nothing but kind remarks for his senior group and the resiliency they have shown this year.
"It wasn't easy for them, they were questioned a lot, and we didn't play good football early, but they were resilient, and they went to work every day," Hoff said. "I told them how proud I am of them staying with it and continuing to get better. They bought in and were all in and led us down the stretch and got us to this point."