ATHENS - The Eastside Eagles laid it all on the line but fell short in their attempt to qualify for the Class AAAA playoffs, losing to the Clarke Central Gladiators 14-7 on Friday at Billy Henderson Stadium.
The difference in the game was a 90-yard kickoff return by the Gladiators' Derrick Smith to start the second half.
The Eagles (7-3) were down by two touchdowns with less than seven minutes to play, and the Eagles went for it on a fourth-and-8 at the Clarke Central 45. However, the Clarke Central defense prevented Justin Wray from running the play.
The Gladiators (7-2-1) ran four precious minutes off the clock before giving Eastside the ball on its 7-yard line with 3:17 left to play.
Eastside moved the ball but could not score quick enough. Wray took the Eagles 93 yards down the field but there was less than a minute to play.
"They don't ever quit," Eastside coach Rick Hurst said. "They always play that way; they're always going to give us a chance to win games."
In the drive, Wray ran the ball five times for 54 yards before throwing the ball to Johnny Norrington for a 12-yard strike.
The Gladiators were able to get the on-side kick and held on for the win.
Wray led the Eagles' ground game with 79 yards on 12 carries. In the air, Wray was 15 of 28 with one interception for 156 yards. The interception gave the Gladiators the ball on the 1-yard line on a fourth and six play.
Broderick Alexander and Andrico Bailey were on the receiving end of most of Wray's passes. Alexander caught five passes for 49 yards, while Bailey had four catches for 47 yards.
Eastside ended the night with 348 yards of total offense, 192 of which came on the ground. Behind Wray in rushing yards was Norrington, who had 59 yards on nine touches.
Clarke Central star running back Darrien Robinson was kept out the end zone and would have been held to under 100 yards rushing if not for a 41-yard jaunt in the fourth quarter, which helped give him 105 yards for the night.
"Our defense played the best I could ask them to play. It's like I told them, sometimes this stuff happens. That's the story, they made one more play than we made," Hurst said.
Clarke Central put the first points on the board with a 3-yard catch by Desmond Gantt from Marques Coleman with 2:49 left in the first half.
The Eagles had a chance to tie the game before the half but fumbled on the Gladiators' 11 after moving the ball 55 yards with 39 seconds left to play in the opening half.
"I tell them they have to play for 48 minutes, and in a game like this, they can't relax one bit," Hurst said. "The fumble just happened and you can't do that against good football teams."
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.