Prevailing thought says moral victories don’t show up in the wins and losses column.
But maybe — just maybe, Friday night’s 28-21 Eastside loss to eighth-ranked Woodward Academy can provide a rare exception to that rule.
First, let me say that I typically do not go hard on officiating and referees costing teams ball games. I think that it’s usually the easy way out, and pardon my coachspeak, but there are often more than a handful of plays a team on the wrong end of a crucial call could’ve capitalized on earlier in a game to warrant the bad officiating a moot point.
Speaking of exceptions, I’m making one right here. Eastside coach Troy Hoff will tell you that it shouldn’t have come down to just that play. He’ll tell you that if Eastside holds on to some fumbled snaps, or if the defense finds a way to corral Woodward Academy’s dynamic tailback, Tahj Gary, then we wouldn’t even have to have this conversation.
But, those things didn’t happen. So let’s have the conversation. Eastside was royally screwed in that game. There, I said it. Can reporters get fined by the GHSA for making such statements? If so, put it on my tab.
It’s a shame that such a hard fought, quality football game such as this one had to come down to being decided by poor officiating. In case you’ve not seen the video making rounds on Twitter, or you didn’t read Friday’s game story, here it is in a nutshell.
Eastside’s down by a touchdown. Eagles are driving against a winded Woodward defense that hadn’t stopped Eastside’s offense since late in the first quarter. Eastside tailback Taylor Carter catches a pass, turns up field, gets tackled — we’ll talk about the tackle in a minute — and as he goes down, his arm hits the turf and the football pops out.
Ground can’t cause a fumble, right? That’s what we’re all thinking, even after a Woodward player jumped in glee with the ball in his hand.
They ruled it a fumble. Eastside coaches protested. Players got mad. Fans got rowdy. The refs stood their ground. Fifty-one seconds remaining in the game, a couple of kneel downs by the War Eagle quarterback, and that’s all she wrote. Game over. Thanks for coming. Drive home safely.
First of all, forget the fumble. There should’ve been a penalty called for an illegal horse collar tackle that should’ve not only allowed Eastside to retain possession, but advance the ball closer to making this an overtime game.
Secondly, this officiating crew was making gaffes all night. Like a very blatant late hit on an Eastside ball carrier who was well out of bounds early in the first half. Or the countless holding penalties that were missed, and then several phantom ones that were inexplicable.
To be fair, this officiating was pretty bad on both sides, for both teams. It’s arguably the worst I’ve seen in my time covering high school football in Georgia.
And I know refs have tough jobs. I know if I were one, I’d probably see some things differently. But I also know those kids who left their hearts on the Woodward Academy turf deserved better than what they got Friday night.
Oh. And in case you’re wondering? Eastside coach, Troy Hoff isn’t necessarily pining for instant replay in high school football, either.
“I don’t know about that,” Hoff said with a chuckle. “They can’t get it right in college or the NFL sometimes, so I don’t know if it’ll matter here.”
It’s his tongue-and-cheek way of saying, “Blaming refs does nothing for our season or our goals.” Here, here, coach Hoff. I agree.
But back to my original assertion. We’re not going to glamorize the fact that Eastside lost the game. And a loss is a loss. But what perhaps has been gained in this loss may turn out to be just as valuable as a win later on down the line.
For one, the Eagles should be brimming with confidence at the fact that they’ve proven they cannot only compete with the best Class AAAA has to offer, but can (and this case, should have been able to) beat them.
Additionally, for a team that was wondering aloud how a retooled offensive line would hold up against the big boys, there’s nothing else to wonder about. I have no official numbers yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see another 250-plus rushing performance against one of the more stout front sevens in 4A ball.
I’m just going to go ahead and give full disclosure: I’m ranking these Eagles in my Georgia Sportswriters Association top 10 poll again. Because as much as a loss can do, this game proved that Eastside belongs. And I’m not sure there are 10 teams better than these Eagles in Class AAAA.
But here comes the dangerous part for the rest of Eastside’s opponents: They believe it too. You can tell by the swagger they played with. You could feel it even in the way the opposing fans treated Woodward’s win. You could almost hear the collective sigh in the audience. It was a sigh that said, “We probably shouldn’t have won this one, but thank God we did.”
So hats off to the Eastside Eagles for coming up to an hostile environment and nearly spoiling Woodward’s homecoming night. The game was lost on the scoreboard and on paper. But come playoff time, if a deep postseason run occurs, point back to this game as the one that gave Eastside that world beaters mindset.
It looks good on you, Eagles.
Gabriel Stovall is the proud sports editor of The Covington News. He can be reached for tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall and @CovNewsSports.