Troup falls short in memorable region-championship game
By Kevin Eckleberry
LaGrange Daily News
COLUMBUS – The Troup Tigers were close, agonizingly close, to pulling off what would have been an epic, memorable victory.
Instead, when the clock struck zero in Saturday’s Region 2-AAAA-championship game at Kinnett Stadium in Columbus, it was the Carver Tigers celebrating a 32-29 victory in a game that was decided by a controversial call in the closing moments.
Carver trailed 29-12 after three quarters, but it scored a pair of touchdowns to get within five points, and it had the ball in the closing moments.
It came down to one play, with Carver facing fourth-and-20 from the Troup 26-yard line.
Carver quarterback Devin Riles dropped back, and he delivered a pass in the direction of Jaiden Credle.
Credle got his hands on the ball at the 5-yard line, and it came loose right at the goal line, and the closest official ruled it a touchdown, although whether Credle ever had possession was very much a judgment call, and it did appear as though his knee was down before he made it into the end zone regardless.
The call was disputed by Troup’s coaches, but it stood, and Carver had the go-ahead touchdown, and it converted the two-point conversion to take a 32-29 lead with 13 seconds remaining.
Troup ran two plays that only gained a few yards and the clock ran out, and it was Carver celebrating a region title, while Troup’s players and coaches were left stunned, wondering how they’d lost a game they appeared to have in hand.
Troup (6-4 overall) finished fourth in the region, and it will play Region 3-AAAA’s top seed Benedictine on Saturday in Savannah in the first round of the state playoffs.
“It’s just tough to lose it like we did,” said Troup head coach Tanner Glisson. “Our guys gave it everything they had for the past eight days. I’m just proud of them.”
Saturday’s game marked the close of an incredibly busy stretch for Troup, which played three games in eight days.
Troup began that stretch with a 14-7 win over LaGrange before beating Jordan 49-0, setting the stage for Saturday’s winner-take-all game against Carver.
Through three quarters it looked like Troup was going to complete that hectic stretch with a championship-clinching victory, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Carver scored a pair of touchdowns in less than a minute in the fourth quarter to get within five, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.
Troup put together a solid drive to get into Carver territory, but it had to punt with more than three minutes remaining.
Carver, with Riles leading the way, steadily moved down the field, and it appeared to have scored the go-ahead touchdown on third down, but the score was disallowed because of an illegal-man-downfield penalty.
Because that penalty caused a loss of down, suddenly Carver found itself facing a fourth-down situation, and the game came down to one play.
Riles made the pass, Credle made the disputed catch, and Carver had the come-from-behind win and the accompanying region championship.
“I’m proud of those guys,” said Carver head coach Corey Joyner. “We all put a lot of work in. They don’t understand a lot of times why I’m so hard on them, but it’s for moments like this that we were ready. We didn’t fold. We could have easily folded the tent when a lot of things weren’t going our way, but those guys believed in themselves and believed in their teammates.”
It was a painful loss for Troup, but Glisson made sure the players knew how proud he was of them.
“We cried, and we hugged each other, and basically said how much we appreciate those guys,” Glisson said. “Those guys laid it all on the line for us. There’s no bigger testament to being a coach than when kids do that for you. That speaks volumes for our program and where we are, and who we are, and the type of kids that we have.”
Glisson was also pleased at the way the players reacted after the disputed go-ahead touchdown.
“We were hurt, there wasn’t any doubt that, but I thought our players really handled themselves well,” Glisson said.
The Tigers built a 29-12 lead through three quarters thanks to an explosive offense led by freshman quarterback Taeo Todd, as well as a defense that was putting the clamps on Carver’s high-powered attack.
Todd had a 22-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and a 50-yard scoring run in the third quarter, and he finished with 155 rushing yards.
Marquavious Kelley added a 65-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and AJ Tucker had a 31-yard scoring run in the second quarter.
Troup also scored two points on a safety when the snap went over the head of Carver’s punter and out of the end zone in the third quarter.
Carver got closer on a 16-yard touchdown run by Riles with 8:55 to play, but Troup was ahead 29-18, and it was still in control of the game.
That changed when Carver recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, and it scored moments later on a Keemon Smith 3-yard run.
In a span of less than one minute, Carver had cut its 17-point deficit to five, and there was still nearly eight minutes left in the game.
Troup made it to Carver’s 44-yard line before its drive stalled, and Carver took over at its own 15-yard line with 3:41 to play following the punt.
Carver used almost all of the time before scoring with 13 seconds left, stunning a Troup team that was so close to winning the program’s first region title in more than 30 years.
“I was really, really proud of our guys,” Glisson said. “They played their rear ends off, and even though they lost, that was a heck of an instant classic game. It’s a game that people won’t forget for a long time.”
After the teams traded punts to start the game, Troup showed off its big-play ability to find the end zone.
On a second-down play, Kelley took a handoff from Todd, and he got to the left sideline and raced 65 yards for the touchdown with 8:40 to play in the first quarter, and Troup led 6-0 following an unsuccessful extra-point attempt.
Carver answered later in the first quarter, with Credle scoring on a 20-yard run, and the game was tied 6-6 after a failed extra-point attempt.
In the second quarter, a bad snap on a punt attempt gave Troup possession at the Carver 13-yard line.
Three plays later, Tucker muscled his way into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown run, and Cody Bray made the extra point to give Troup a 13-6 lead with 6:38 to play in the first half.
Moments later Troup’s Zy Varner recovered a fumble, and Troup had the ball at the Carver 35-yard line.
After Todd kept the drive alive with a 7-yard run on third down, the freshman quarterback scored on a 22-yard run, and Bray’s extra point pushed the lead to 20-6 with 3:45 to play in the first half.
Carver’s next drive ended when Jordan Adams came through with a tackle for loss on third down, and Troup took over at its own 26-yard line following a punt.
The Tigers, with Todd and Navantoe Moss sharing the carries, made it to the 19-yard line to set up a field-goal attempt that was unsuccessful, and the lead was 20-6 at the half.
Carver got within eight on the opening possession of the second half, with Riles scoring on a 7-yard run with 7:40 to play in the third quarter.
Later in the quarter, Carver had the ball on its own 18-yard line, but it was forced to punt after three straight incompletions.
The snap went over the punter’s head and out of the back of the end zone, and Troup was awarded two points for the safety, extending the lead to 22-12 with 2:45 left in the third quarter.
The Tigers took over at their own 45-yard line after a punt, and it took them three plays to pad their lead.
On third down, Todd kept the ball and appeared stopped on the right sideline, but he somehow managed to stay inbounds and elude a handful of Carver defenders, and he sprinted to the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown.
When Bray made the extra point, Troup was ahead 29-12 with 57 seconds left in the third quarter.
Carver, in desperate need of points, got a 16-yard touchdown run from Riles on its next possession, and TJ Mitchell came through with a sack on the two-point attempt, and Troup led 29-18 with 8:55 to play.
Carver then got a much-needed break when it recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff at the Troup 12-yard line.
On third down, Smith powered his way across the goal line from three yards out, and Troup led 29-24 after it successfully defended the two-point attempt.
Troup got two first-down runs from Todd and one from Moss on its next possession, but it eventually had to punt, setting up Carver’s game-winning drive.
As disheartening as the loss was, the good news for the Tigers is that they’re not done, and they’ll head to Savannah on Saturday with a chance to win a playoff game and keep their season alive.
“It’s been a strange year,” Glisson said. “We go all the way from playing for the region championship, to going to four, and now have to go play a Benedictine on the road. But, we get a chance to go play, and we’re excited about it, and I think we’re probably one of those teams nobody wants to play right now.”