COVINGTON — A blocked extra point turned into Eastside’s worst nightmare Friday night in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
A would-be game-tying extra point from Mary Persons was blocked by the Eagles to keep a slim one-point lead in favor of Eastside, but an ensuing onside kick with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter was recovered by the Bulldogs, turning into a stunning defeat for the hosts.
“We knew that when we blocked it that we still had a lot of football left,” Eastside head coach Troy Hoff said. “We had our front moved up because their kicks were short. I thought we had the football, but I didn’t get an explanation.”
Mary Persons quarterback Logan Hickman hit senior wide receiver Trippe Moore in the back right corner of the end zone for the go-ahead score with 35 seconds remaining to hand the Bulldogs a 28-21 win over the Eagles.
Looking back, Hoff knows there were opportunities missed to put the game away in the end in spite of the onside kick recovery.
“There is going to be a lot of them with opportunities,” Hoff said. “You can’t point your finger at just one right now. There were times where we probably could have gotten more points with the ball in the first half.
"They went 98 yards in the second quarter when we had them stopped on third down... the onside kick was a big play, but we had chances after that, too. Their guys made a couple of more plays.”
The first big mistake of the night was made by the Bulldogs early in the first quarter. After stopping Eastside quarterback Noah Cook and the Eagles on three straight incompletions on their opening possession, Mary Persons kick returner Rico Harden fumbled the ensuing punt return to give the Eastside offense new life.
Setting up shop at the Mary Persons 37, it took the Eagles only one play to take advantage of the mistake. Cook dropped back, surveyed the field and delivered a 50-50 ball into the middle of the end zone that was hauled in by Jeff Haynes. The score gave the Eagles a 7-0 lead with 10:06 remaining in the first quarter.
Each team traded punts on their next offensive possessions and despite poor field position for the Bulldogs, their third drive of the night led to points. Starting on their own 8-yard line, Mary Persons used an 11-play, 92-yard drive to knot the game at 7-all.
The biggest play of the drive came on third-and-five from the Bulldog 18 when Hickman dumped off a short pass to tight end Andre Jackson, who managed to pick up the first down and then some before getting tackled after a 44-yard gain.
On third-and-goal, Harden made up for his fumble earlier in the game and pounded his way into the end zone for a 1-yard score with 11:13 remaining in the second quarter.
After a short kickoff, the Eagles needed only three plays to drive into Bulldog territory. Cook hit Haynes over the middle for a gain of 18 on third-and-5, but the drive was cut short just one play later. On first-and-10 from the Bulldog 32, Kenai Grier was stripped after a hard-fought 6-yard gain to give the ball back to Mary Persons.
The Eagles managed to get the ball back without surrendering a first down, but Cook and the Eagles stalled out just shy of midfield. Electing to punt, Ezra King booted his punt 51 yards down to the Mary Persons’ 2-yard line with under seven minutes remaining in the half.
Looking to force a punt from their own end zone, the Bulldogs converted a first down on third-and-10. 10 plays later with 44 seconds remaining in the half, the Bulldogs punched the ball into the end zone on a slick 13-yard rush from Adrian Hughley to give Mary Persons its first lead of the game 14-7.
The Bulldogs managed to eat nearly seven minutes off of the clock on the 98-yard touchdown drive.
Another short kickoff from the Bulldogs gave the Eagles great field position to start the third quarter. Eastside started the drive from the Mary Persons 49-yard line and wasted no time marching into the red zone.
Four Sincere Johnson carries on the drive helped tie the game up at 14-all for the Eagles. The junior earned the final 19 yards for Eastside and scored on a 4-yard direct snap run with 9:38 remaining in the third quarter.
After giving up two long touchdown drives in the first half, the Eagles repaid the Bulldogs with one of their own late in the third quarter. Starting deep inside Mary Persons territory, Eastside marched 87 yards on only eight plays to regain a 7-point lead over the Bulldogs.
Cook found Haynes down the left sidelines for a 42-yard gain before finding a wide-open Johnson in the right corner of the end zone from 14 yards out with 21 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Hoff pointed to his team's execution in the second half that helped fuel the comeback.
“I think we just executed better,” Hoff said. “We got some looks that we liked and were able to move the football. The defense made a few adjustments with how they were attacking us and our kids played hard. We challenged them. We have played well in the second half throughout the season."
With two chances to extend its lead in the fourth quarter, the Eagles stalled out both times to give the Bulldogs two prime opportunities to tie the game up.
The first chance for the Bulldogs was thwarted on fourth-and-6 from the Eastside 21. With steady rain falling, the Bulldogs elected to go for it and their pass fell incomplete to give the ball back to Cook and the Eagles.
The second opportunity, however, was cashed in by the Bulldogs.
Starting on their own 36, the Bulldogs punched their way into the end zone with a 1-yard score with 2:14, but in need of an extra point to tie the game, the attempt was blocked by the Eagles to keep them out in front 21-20.
Needing an onside kick with just over two minutes remaining, a scrum for the ball went in the Bulldogs’ favor. Mary Persons recovered the onside kick and started at the Eastside 42 looking to take a lead.
The stunning turn of events set up a the game-winning score for Mary Persons — a 17-yard touchdown pass from Hickman to Moore with 35 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Cook and the Eagles attempted one last drive looking to force overtime and got as far as the Mary Persons 24-yard line with five seconds remaining, but the senior’s pass to Grier fell short of the end zone as time expired.
Hoff offered some kind words for his senior class that includes Cook, Haynes and King, three of the Eagles' star players Friday night.
"Extremely resilient," Hoff said of his senior class. "They are the team following a legendary team that went 12-1. It wasn't easy for them. They were questioned a lot and we didn't play really good football early. But they went to work every day and I told them how proud I am of them staying with it and continuing to get better. They led us down the stretch and got us to this point."