ATLANTA (41NBC/WMGT) – A controversial call in the fourth quarter of Friday’s GHSA AAA final helped Calhoun beat Peach County 10-6 and claim its third state title in seven years.
“It definitely don’t feel good, that’s for sure,” said Peach County coach Chad Campbell after accepting the runner-up trophy. “I just feel bad for our kids the way they fought back and got back into the ballgame, had a chance to win.”
With less than four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Peach’s Antonio Gilbert connected with Noah Whittington on a 4th and 8 from the Calhoun 21. Whittington took two steps and fell toward the end zone, extending the ball just over the goal line, but the referee ruled the pass incomplete.
“He caught the ball, took two steps, stuck the ball in the end zone–touchdown,” said Peach fan Reginald Grose. “I don’t know how he missed the call.”
“I think everybody else can tell you what they saw,” he said. “Looked like a catch and a score to me, but hey, that’s not the way he saw it.”
Campbell and the rest of the Peach sideline motioned toward Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s halo board, which was showing the replay, but there is no replay in high school football.
“That last touchdown by Noah, that should’ve been a touchdown,” said Peach fan Andre Sullivan. “And if nothing else, the referee should’ve called a huddle and discussed it.”
The Peach offense got another crack at it, but the Calhoun defense stood tall, stopping the Trojans on 4th down and running out the clock.
“How do you tell 16, 17, 18-year-old kids that a mistake like that cost them the state championship?” Campbell asked.
Calhoun’s Brannon Spector, a Clemson commit, had the Yellow Jackets’ only touchdown– a pick-six late in the first half.
The Trojans were held scoreless through the first three quarters. Mitchell Fineran connected on a 50-yard field goal try with eight and a half minutes to go, bringing the Peach faithful to their feet.
“Everywhere we go, the PC Nation goes with it,” said Layne Smith. “We weren’t surprised at all today to see these stands filled with Fort Valley’s crowd. It’s just part of what we do.”
Trailing 10-3, the Peach defense got the ball back for the offense, forcing and recovering a fumble on the Yellow Jackets’ next possession.
“Defense played great,” Campbell said. “Offense, we just couldn’t get anything going rhythmically.”
They did get the kicking game going. Fineran hit a 37-yarder less than three minutes after his first field goal, pulling the Trojans to within one score.
After another Calhoun punt, the Trojans went to work on the drive that ended with the controversial call at the goal line.
“Our kids always believed they could win,” Campbell said. “I just feel bad for the kids.”
“It was a battle man,” said Shervonne Grose. “It was a battle to the end. Those who were watching, they really know who the real champs is man, PCHS. We did it. We the champs.”
The Trojans finish the season 13-2, their fourth 13-plus win season since Campbell took over in 2007.