To begin with, Eastside-Covington and Woodward Academy hardly resembled two teams gunning for the inside track on a region title.
The first four minutes featured a Woodward fumble that kept squirting backward for a 30-yard loss and an Eastside muffed punt on which the visiting Eagles barely escaped disaster.
In the end, No. 9-ranked Woodward (7-1, 4-0 Region 4-AAAA) rode a big second half by junior running back Tahj Gary to a 28-21 win Friday night at Woodward’s homecoming game.
“At the end of the first half, we were taking our turns on offense screwing up,” said Woodward coach John Hunt. “We really played poorly. The only knucklehead was me, so I thought we needed to give the ball to Tahj more. He said feed it to him, so I gave it to him and of course he responded.”
Gary rushed for 195 yards and two touchdowns, the last one a 21-yarder with 1:32 left that put the College Park private school up 28-21.
Gary, playing on a sore left ankle, did most of his damage in the second half, when he carried 21 times for 17 yards. He carried on 11 straight Woodward offensive snaps to open the second half.
“I just told them to let me work,” Gary said. “I started getting the ball, and my teammates really blocked well.”
Eastside (6-2, 3-1) got 175 yards and a touchdown Tyon Davis, who rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown.
After Gary’s final score – on which he broke out of a group of Eastside tacklers and dragged the last one the final 10 yards - one bit of drama remained. Eastside flew down the field in the final minute, moving from its 20 to the Woodward 34 in four plays.
On first down, quarterback Brayden Harper passed to Taylor Carter in the left flat, and Carter wrestled with a Woodward defender before going down at the 23. The ball squirted out right at the sideline and Woodward’s Hunter Sellers grabbed it. It was a ruled a fumble, and the Eastside bench thought Carter was down before the ball came out, and a video posted on social media by the Covington News appeared to support their case.
Afterward Eastside coach Troy Hoff took the high road afterward.
“Yes, that’s the play. We were driving, moving the football,” Hoff said. “In a 48-minute game we had a lot of opportunities. Unfortunately it’s going to come down to that one, but we had chance to make plays at other times.”
The turnover allowed Woodward to run out the clock and move within one win of its fourth straight region title.
“There’s no moral victories,” Hoff said. “We felt like we should have come out of here with a win tonight. That didn’t happen.”
In a sloppy opening sequence, quarterback Mike Wright fumbled on Woodward’s first snap and after a blooper-reel series of recovery attempts by both teams, Woodward recovered at its own 6-yard line, a loss of 30 yards that left the War Eagles with a second down and 40 situation. It ultimately contributed to Eastside’s first score.
Eastside muffed the ensuing punt but recovered at the Woodward 49. Six plays later Harper connected with Jerry Mays, who broke one tackle then stepped into the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown pass midway through the first quarter.
Woodward answered by moving 66 yards on six plays on the next series, capped by Wright’s 46-yard run.
Woodward took its first lead on Gary’s 8-yard run to cap the opening drive of the second half. Eastside pulled even with an 11-play, 78-yard drive finished by Davis’ 9-yard run.
Woodward needed just one play to regain the lead, a 78-yard touchdown pass from Wright to Hunter Sellers, who caught the ball in the flat at the line of scrimmage and sprinted past two Eastside defenders for the score.
Davis’ 58-yard run on the next series sparked an 80-yard drive by Eastside, which again pulled even, this time on Harper’s 1-yard run.
Eastside 7 0 0 14 – 21
Woodward Academy 7 0 7 14 – 28
E – Brayden Harper 18 pass to Jerry Mays (Kade Mote kick)
WA – Mike Wright 46 run (Marshall Golick kick)
WA -- Tahj Gary 8 run (Golick kick)
E – Tyon Davis 9 run (Mote kick)
WA – Wright 78 pass to Hunter Sellers (Golick kick)
E – Harper 1 run (Mote kick)
WA – Gary 21 run (Golick kick)