In his final game at Signal Mountain High School, senior Reese Phillips held nothing back -- including his tears.
"I'm so proud of these guys," the University of Kentucky-committed quarterback said after the Eagles' heartbreaking 42-41 overtime playoff loss to Page on Friday.
Playoff losses end high school careers; that's a fact and it happened to half the teams that played across the state Friday. For Signal, this loss will be remembered and relived for the disastrous start, the magical rally and the silent conclusion of a missed moment.
Phillips and the Eagles rallied from a 28-0 hole, using a river of big plays and emotional haymakers. Phillips' perfectly thrown 7-yard strike to a diving Diamez Franklin with 10.6 seconds left and bruising fullback James McClellan's two-point run tied the game at 35.
McClellan scored from a yard out on fourth down on the Eagles' overtime possession, but the extra point sailed wide left. Page quarterback Zak Mizell punctuated his stellar performance with two quick completions to Booker Leach to cover the 10 yards, and Jake Laster's kick was pure to provide the final margin.
"It would be easy to be negative after a loss, but I'm proud of they way we fought back," Phillips said between hugs and well wishes. "The way this team grew up this year ..."
Phillips didn't get the chance to finish, but he didn't have to. The Eagles started Friday much like they started the season -- in a deep hole.
Using an array of screens and quick throws early, Mizell carved the Eagles apart. He completed 11 of his first 12 throws for two scores during the first-half onslaught. He connected with Damian Lockridge for touchdown plays of 70 and 80 yards -- a big chunk of Lockridge's career-high 246 yards receiving.
"Mizell has been doing that all year for us," Page coach Charles Rathbone said, wiping the postgame celebratory Gatorade shower off his windbreaker. "He's completed passes to 18 different guys this year. He makes really good decisions."
As Page was making big plays early, Signal was making bad ones. The Eagles made three empty trips inside the Page 20 in the first half, missing a field goal, turning the ball over and failing on fourth down from inside the Patriots' 5.
"That was the difference in the game," Signal coach Bill Price said. "We didn't play well at all in the first half, and that made it tough.
"We fought back, but we hurt ourselves bad in the first half."
Needing some magic, the Eagles passed the hat and pulled out one highlight after another. Down 28-0 after Zac Weiland's second rushing touchdown of the game, Signal rebounded.
McClellan opened the Signal scoring, from a yard out on fourth down to cap a 15-play drive, and the crowd started to get excited. Then sophomore defensive tackle William Franklin corralled a tipped screen pass and rumbled 22 yards for a score to catch everyone's attention.
Page scored on its next offensive play, Mizell finding a wide-open Taylor Wallace behind the Signal defense for a 53-yard touchdown. Mizell finished 17-of-25 for 366 yards and the three scores.
"That's the third time this year we've been up big and the other team's come back," Rathbone said. "We got a little conservative tonight, and that's my fault."
Even down 35-12 with a little more than 15 minutes left, Signal refused to go quietly.
McClellan scored from 17 yards out -- on another fourth-and-short -- to reignite the crowd, and he scored on a 3-yard run with 5:17 left to pull the Eagles to within a score at 35-27. After the Eagles forced a Page punt, Signal had a final chance, needing to cover 78 yards in a1:20 without a timeout.
Phillips and McClellan delivered, combining for 77 yards of the tying drive. Phillips finished his Signal career with a 16-for-28 passing night for 254 yards, and McClellan rushed 30 times for 155 yards and the four scores.
Signal outgained Page 570-428 and ran 99 plays to the Patriots' 51.
"We had a ton of kids make plays," Price said, "but the first half killed us."
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...