By Nathan Fry | Eastside Contributor
It was a literal game of inches at Sirrine Stadium on Friday night, as the Greenville Red Raiders closed out their season with a 24-17 Region championship win over the Eastside Eagles.
The Raiders looked to be the better team in the first half, going up 14-0 early. However, Eastside was determined to hang around. Impressively, the Eagles forced multiple turnovers in the red zone, bailing out the team with game changing plays. The special teams unit got in on the action as well, blocking a punt that rolled ten yards up the field.
Overall, the game had multiple touchdowns for both sides but was a very disjointed affair. Each side would have a chunk play for twenty yards or more, and then the drive would immediately stall out. Touchdowns would be thrown, and then flags would come in after the whistle to call them back. Kickoff returns were immediately nullified by players tripping on the torn up playing surface. For lack of a better term, the game had no “flow.” It was an ugly contest that was difficult to read at any moment, as a major play never meant that the momentum had shifted to either side.
Freak turnovers marred the game as well, as passes were tipped at the line and intercepted, a fumble went out of the endzone for a touchback, and high snaps led to easy giveaways and devastating sacks as well. No one seemed to be on their “A-Game” throughout the match.
The second half is when it began to get even uglier. After the two sides combined for five late drives accumulated zero points and two turnovers.
It seemed that both were barely treading water. Trailing 21-10 after the third quarter, Eastside needed a big play in order to get themselves closer to the Raiders. After a three and out deep in their own territory, Greenville punted to the Eagles, but what made this play important wasn’t a large return or a coffin corner kick. Out of nowhere, an inadvertent flag was thrown onto the field, and there was no call to match it. After much deliberation, the referees decided to call offsetting personal fouls on both teams, leading to a replay of fourth down. The Raiders snap was high and the punter had little time as Eagles got the edge on the play, making contact with the kick, leading to an extremely short field late in the fourth quarter.
Due to the blocked punt, Eastside’s offense took over at the Raiders’ 20 yard line. That’s when Skoloff rolled out and found wide receiver Payton Mangrum for a touchdown to the corner. With that play, the Eagles were within seven points with five minutes to play. A game that seemed out of reach for a whole quarter had suddenly become a nailbiter.
And then the largest moment of the night happened.
With 5:01 remaining, Eastside kicked off to Greenville. The ball spun towards the right sideline and appeared to be going out of bounds. As Greenville’s return-man waved off the ball, backing up and putting his hands in the air, the kick dropped, rolled towards the boundary, and suddenly stopped two feet short of the sideline. Shocked, the Greenville players were nowhere near the kick as an Eagle dove on top of the kick. Several players dove on top of the pile to try to get the ball, though it hadn’t come out. That’s when the head official came over from the middle of the field and ruled that the kick had gone out of bounds.
In a game that was incredibly close, every play mattered down the stretch. The Eagles’ defense had forced turnovers when they needed to all night, but in the end, they couldn’t get the stop on a crucial fourth and inches with under two minutes to go.
In another decision that came down to a handful of inches, the first down was given to the Raiders and they were able to run the clock out on the Eagles, winning the region title and securing home field advantage in the postseason.
In a fiery game that was as close as any, we can only hope that these two strong teams will face each other again in a postseason rematch.
Both teams will play at home next, as Greenville will face Palmetto in round one of the postseason, and Eastside will take on Westwood.
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