The fate of Dudley's football season came down to one play Saturday night.
With 5:20 left in the fourth quarter, Dudley faced a fourth down and one at the Asheville 1. Dudley quarterback Chris Reid attempted to dive into the end zone, only to be met by a horde of Asheville defenders.The only question was: did he cross the goal line before being tackled?
Dudley coach Willie Young thought Reid had scored. Unfortunately, the officials didn't. They marked the ball an inch short of the goal line, allowing Asheville to regain possession. The Cougars went on to edge Dudley 13-12 in the first round of the state 4-A football playoffs. Obviously, Asheville coach Lou Fogle thought his team made a great defensive stop.
``Our kids met the challenge,' Fogle said. ``We have only one kid who weighs over 220 pounds on defense. Most of them weigh around 190 pounds, but they played like they weighed 290 tonight.'
Young did not agree with the call. In the Panthers' locker room after the game, his mind was still on the referees' decision.
``He (Reid) jumped up and over the goal line!' an angry Young said. ``It's not fair for the kids to play a hard-fought game and have it come to something like that.'
The Cougars appeared to have the momentum going their way in the last quarter. They were having some success with their running attack, but the Panthers stopped them on fourth and one at the Asheville 42-yard line.
The Panthers had a first down on the 4-yard line but four running plays could not get them into the end zone. Young was just as livid over the next play after the call. The Panthers appeared to have tackled Asheville quarterback Judd Hearring in the end zone for a safety, but never got the call they were looking for.
``It was a safety,' Young said. ``But I'd better not say anything else before I get myself into trouble.'
Dudley managed to regain possession with 2:30 left in the fourth quarter. But Asheville's Charles Jefferson picked off Reid's pass. Another interception with 12 seconds left sealed the game for Asheville. Asheville (10-1) moved on to the second round of the state 4-A playoffs.
The Cougars will host Grimsley Friday night. For the Dudley players and coaching staff, the contest will be played in their minds for months to come.
The Panthers (7-4) almost pulled off a win despite two turnovers which led to Asheville touchdowns and the lack of a kicking game.
On paper, both teams appeared to be evenly matched. Both possessed quickness and were aggressive defensively.
With both teams so similar, turnovers are usually expected to play a major factor. And they did.
The Panthers put themselves in a hole early by fumbling the opening kickoff at their own 7-yard line. Four plays later, Asheville took a 6-0 lead on a 1-yard TD run by tailback Donnell Griffin.
Dudley struck back on its next possession. This season, Coach Young did not settle on a quarterback until the end of the regular season. Sometimes he played as many as three quarterbacks a game. He will not have that problem next year.
Reid , a junior, calmly engineered a drive which resulted in a three-yard touchdown run by Del Seagraves in the first quarter. The Panthers took the lead on another three-yard score by Seagraves to go ahead 12-6 in the second quarter.
But the Panthers committed another mistake. Jefferson intercepted a Reid pass and returned it to the Dudley 29-yard line. Seven plays later, Griffin scored from the two-yard line and Asheville kicked the important extra point to go ahead 13-12.