Collins Hill defensive linebacker Shahed Noorollahi (78) reacts after losing to McEachern during Friday’s Class AAAAAA third-round state playoff game at Collins Hill. (Photo: Kyle Hess)
SUWANEE — One big rally behind it, the Collins Hill football team needed one more in Friday night’s Class AAAAAA quarterfinal.
That attempt came up just short, though, with a gut-wrenching interception at the McEachern 1-yard line.
The Indians’ Glenn Frazier intercepted the Eagles’ potential game-winning pass with 4.6 seconds left, falling to the ground and clutching McEachern’s thrilling 35-32 victory in his hands. McEachern advances to face North Gwinnett in next Friday’s semifinals, while Collins Hill saw its remarkable season come to a stunning end.
The Eagles had rallied from 18 points down for a 32-28 lead, only to watch McEachern’s Taj Griffin return a punt 85 yards for the game-winning touchdown with only a minute left.
“There’s no quit in them,” Collins Hill head coach Kevin Reach said of his team. “We had the kid hemmed up on the punt return six or seven times, the (Griffin) kid just made a great athletic play. Football comes down to a game of inches, a game of seconds. We just ran out of time. I can’t fault our kids’ effort.”
Griffin, a heavily recruited junior who also rushed for 151 yards, made the game-changing play when he finally corralled a 53-yard punt from Collins Hill’s Robert Snyder. The punt went over his head, but he scooped it up, cut back to his right and followed a blockade of Indians down the sideline for a miracle score as the clock struck 1:00.
But Collins Hill (11-2) wasn’t done.
A fourth-and-10 completion from Tyler Herman to Grant McDonald was followed up by a 12-yard pass to Quentin Jones and a 12-yarder to Tyler Henderson. The Eagles, still with two timeouts, spiked the ball with 9.7 seconds left for a second-and-10 play at the McEachern 21-yard line.
Well within field goal range, the Collins Hill coaches went for one shot at the end zone first, and that ended in disaster when Frazier stepped in front of the pass before it reached the end zone.
“We were going to go for the win right then,” Reach said of the final offensive play. “We were going to put them down the middle and if it wasn’t there we were going to throw it away. I think (Herman) saw (his receiver) open and he threw it kind of flat and the kid made a good pick.”
That Collins Hill even had a chance for the victory was a tribute to their fight, rebounding from a 21-3 deficit that had built before the second quarter was three minutes old. Alizee Chubbs and Griffin had TD runs — the second after a Collins Hill interception gave McEachern (11-2) the ball at the Eagles’ 11-yard-line — and T.J. Rahming caught a 45-yard scoring pass from freshman quarterback Bailey Hockman for the 18-point edge.
Collins Hill closed the gap to 21-10 at halftime with an 11-play drive capped by Herman’s 6-yard TD pass to Ari Benoit.
A blocked punt early in the third quarter gave McEachern another short field, and Chubbs’ second short TD run put the visitors up 28-10.
Collins Hill got back into when Henderson scored on a 1-yard run with 29 seconds left in the third quarter, finishing off a 12-play, 65-yard drive. The Eagles’ defense held, then Dwayne Smith returned the ensuing punt 41 yards for a TD and closed the gap to 28-25 with 9:26 remaining.
After another defensive stop, Herman hit Henderson for a 36-yard TD with 6:28 left and Collins Hill amazingly had a 32-28 lead.
“We have the strongest kids on this team,” McDonald said. “They’re my family. They’ll be my brothers my whole life. We were down 28-10 and we came back. We knew we were still in the game. We just couldn’t finish it off. It came down to one play. But these guys are my family. I’m going to love them for the rest of my life.”
Collins Hill’s defense got another stop and gave the Eagles possession with 1:42 left, but McEachern used its remaining timeouts and forced a three-and-out. That set up Griffin’s stunning punt return.
Collins Hill nearly made up for that special teams play, but it came up a yard short and ended a season that saw the Eagles tie the school record with 11 wins and claim their second-ever region title.
“There’s no quit in them,” Reach said of his team. “There’s a lot of overachievers out there. I’m proud of their effort. We just came out on the short end of the stick tonight.”
MCEACHERN 35, COLLINS HILL 32
McEachern 7 14 7 7 — 35
Collins Hill 3 7 8 14 — 32
Collins Hill: Paul Ille 22 FG, 8:49
McEachern: Alizee Chubbs 1 run (Dennis Dominguez kick) 6:18
McEachern: Taj Griffin 11 run (Dominguez kick) 11:41
McEachern: T.J. Rahming 45 pass from Bailey Hockman (Dominguez kick) 9:56
Collins Hill: Ari Benoit 6 pass from Tyler Herman (Ian Morrison kick) 2:08
McEachern: Chubbs 1 run (Dominguez kick) 9:17
Collins Hill: Tyler Henderson 1 run (Quentin Jones pass from Herman) :29
Collins Hill: Dwayne Smith 41 punt return (Morrison kick) 9:26
Collins Hill: Henderson 36 pass from Herman (Morrison kick) 6:28
McEachern: Griffin 85 punt return (Dominguez kick) 1:00
McEachern ---- CH
First downs 19 19
Rushes-yards 44-176 ---- 27-90
Passing yards 176 ---- 223
Comp-Att-INT 13-27-0 ---- 22-41-2
Fumbles-lost 3-0 ---- 0-0
Penalties-yards 12-119 ---- 6-50
RUSHING - McEachern: Griffin 22-151; Ryan Sherman 2-38; Chubbs 8-16; Andrew Heyward 1-2; Tymashian Clemons 5-(-5); Hockman 3-(-10); Team 3-(-16). Collins Hill: Herman 24-82; Canyon Slade 1-6; Herman 2-2.
PASSING - McEachern: Hockman 12-21-0, 166; Clemons 1-6-0, 10. Collins Hill: Herman 21-40-2, 188; Smith 1-1-0, 35.
RECEIVING - McEachern: Rahming 4-77; Elijah Van Dorn 3-28; Artise Clark 2-37; Malik Williams 2-22; Trey Scott 2-12. Collins Hill: Quentin Jones 5-61; Rhyan England 5-25; Henderson 4-58; Grant McDonald 4-58; Smith 1-11; Amadi Stephens 1-7; Benoit 1-6; C.J. Davis 1-6.