McEachern made a controversial stop of Hillgrove quarterback Matthew McCravy inside the 1-yard line on the final play of the game to preserve a 19-14 victory in a matchup of undefeated, top-10 teams in their Region 3-AAAAAAA opener Friday at McEachern's Cantrell Stadium.
Hillgrove (5-1, 0-1), which got the ball at its 16 with 1:35 to play after McEachern turned the ball over on downs, drove 82 yards in six plays and had first-and-goal on the McEachern 2-yard line with 15 seconds remaining. McCravy rolled out to his right and dove for the pylon. Replays appeared to show that he got the ball into the end zone, but the referees ruled otherwise and that the game was over.
Neither McEachern coach Franklin Stephens nor HIllgrove coach Phil Ironside got an explanation after the game as to what the ruling was.
"I have no idea what it was, I just know that it went our way," Stephens said. "I was just waiting to see what the referee, what his decision was going to be as far as the football, and once the football went up in the air, I knew the game was over."
For sixth-ranked Hillgrove, the loss ended a 23-game winning streak in regular-season games. Hillgrove is the two-time defending region champion, and the two teams have combined to win nine of the past 10 titles in their region. The Powder Springs rivals, located about three miles apart, are 5-5 all-time against each other.
"This series, we've had all kinds of spectacular things," Ironside said. "That's a tough way to win or lose. It's awesome for them, but somebody's always on the other side of that. We've been there with field goal kicks, we've been there with things that happened. All I try to tell our kids, we talk about being Christ-like and doing things God wants us to do and represent God as we play. If we show our butts or I cuss the refs, they throw their helmets and those kinds of things, then everything we're doing is for naught."
Second-ranked McEachern (6-0, 1-0) managed just 57 yards of total offense in the first half and trailed 14-6 at the break, but quarterback Carlos Del Rio-Wilson took matters into his own hands in the second half. The junior, who has committed to Florida, had one yard rushing on three carries in the first half but ran for 114 yards on 19 carries in the second.
Del Rio-Wilson picked up 60 yards on six carries in the Indians' first second-half drive, which ended with an 8-yard touchdown run by Jordan Simmons that cut the lead to 14-13. He also threw a 29-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the fourth quarter to put the Indians ahead 19-14. He was 13-for-20 passing for 132 yards for the game.
"Carlos is a 200-something-pound back," Stephens said. "That's one of the things I said this summer about him is that a lot of people don't know what he can do because all he's done for the past two years is throw the ball around. I learned early coming in this spring that he's more than capable of being a running back."
McCravy helped Hillgrove build a 14-3 lead in the first half with two touchdown passes, a 7-yarder to Jalen Royals and a 14-yarder to Trevarus Walker. McCravy was 16-of-32 for 163 yards.
McEachern had no first downs and minus-2 total yards until its final possession of the first half, when the Indians drove from their 22 to the Hillgrove 14 and settled for Denzell Moore's 31-yard field goal on the final play of the half that cut the lead to 14-6.
The Indians' other first-half points, a 22-yard field goal by Moore with 3:37 to play in the second quarter, came after McEachern recovered a fumble at the Hillgrove 13.
© 2019 Cox Media Group.