FORT VALLEY, Ga. -- It's been a long weekend for Peach County head coach Chad Campbell.
He can't even tell you the amount of times he's re-watched the controversial call that cost his team the 3A state championship against Calhoun on Friday.
It's more than he can count.
Peach Co. was attempting to rally after trailing 10-0. They managed to kick two field goals to make it a four-point game in the fourth quarter. Peach Co. had the ball with 3:41 remaining, and on fourth down decided to take a shot towards the end zone. Noah Whittington caught the pass, and his knee was down at about the 1-yard line. As he extended the ball towards the end zone, it popped out as he hit the ground. The referee ruled it incomplete.
Calhoun held on to win the 3A championship 10-6.
Since then, Campbell and Peach Co. sent a letter to the GHSA. The letter isn't asking for an appeal, but rather a meeting with the Board of Trustees where Peach Co. will say the referees didn't handle the situation properly.
"It’s not an appeal. I know we can’t appeal a call," Campbell said. "The way that the situation was handled at the time, we feel like some other things could have been done to help with that call, convening together. We want to be heard. That’s it."
After the play, Campbell claims the referees did not convene, and he doesn't think the sideline judge that made the call could see the play very well. Campbell attempted to talk to the head referee, but he said he was ignored.
Campbell has seen the arguments about his player being out of bounds, but he said the player was pushed out of bounds by the defender so it doesn't matter. He saw Whittington make the catch and extend the ball towards the goal-line for the touchdown. Campbell believes if the catch was ruled complete, Peach Co. would have won the game.
"And to be honest, there were some guys that weren’t in a position to make a call. We want to make a case. We want to stand up for our calls. Everyone in the world knows they blew the call. Our kids deserve better than that and to just be blown off," he said.
Peach Co. is hoping the GHSA would consider naming Calhoun and Peach Co. co-champions. When Campbell was directly asked if the GHSA should name them co-champions:
"I think at this point our kids deserve to be," he said, "where really and truly if the call was made correctly, we might not be sitting here talking about this. I think that’s the only way to remedy the situation is something to be done for these kids."
GHSA Director Robin Hines told 11Alive that is not something that is possible and reiterated judgment calls cannot be reviewed or overturned.
Hines confirmed he received the letters from Peach Co., and he believes a meeting will be set up sometime after this week.
11Alive obtained a copy of the letter through an Open Records Request. Part of it states:
"For a championship game to be decided like this by one official is unacceptable. In a game of this magnitude, there should have been a consultation among the officials. If this is not an appealable action then we are asking to go before GHSA board of trustees to plead our case as precedent has already been set with the Johns Creek and Lee County Case."
Read the full letter below:
If Peach Co.'s meeting turns into some sort of appeal, it's all but certain they won't win. In October, the GHSA approved a bylaw that made judgment calls irreversible or reviewable. The mentioned John's Creek baseball game was overturned, but it was done so because the school focused on the umpires improperly using technology to make the call. Although some members have come out and said it was clear the wrong call was made and they didn't want that to affect the kids.
Many are wondering why video review couldn't have been an option. Currently, the bylaws and constitution do not allow for it. However, Hines made it clear that the member schools could propose a rule for it, and it could go through the regular process of getting approved, denied or tabled by the Board. He did not know if that proposal has ever been made in the past, and it has not since he became the director.
"In a nutshell it’s like this, judgment calls made by officials are not appealable. If there’s a rule that’s in the bylaws or constitution that a member school or members schools want to change, they can go through the process of submitting proposals. Then those proposals are evaluated, analyzed and acting on or tabled, or disregarded. The same process has been in place since the organization has been in existence," Hines said.
Hines would not give his stance on the issue.
Campbell knows that video replay isn't possible at every high school because of equipment and cost. But at the highest stage where the stadium has the capabilities, he doesn't see why it can't be a solution. Then, this could have all been avoided, and the tears from his players after would have been tears of joy, not sadness.
"Nobody wants to know. You don’t know what it was like in that locker room," Campbell said. "We try to teach our kids life lessons, more things about football. We try to make our kids handle themselves in a way that represents them and their family and their community well. It’s a tough situation, and the kids handled it with about as much class as they could."
As for Whittingham, Campbell said he's doing better, but he was distraught after the game.
"Felt like he let the team down because of the ball. Everyone knows he made the catch. He feels like he lost the game for the entire team, and you try and console him," Campbell said.
Peach County will be heard by the Board. But they likely won't get their trophy, or even be named co-champions.
But maybe this will be the final straw that could help garner enough support to get video replays in the state championship. Because, like Campbell said:
"Everybody in the country knows our kid caught the ball and scored a touchdown."