Myles Morris had made the throw countless times in practice, but his target was a trash can and there was nothing on the line.
This time was different.
On Friday night, when Carrollton High School senior Austin Waldrop jetted toward the right side of the end zone on a corner route, the sophomore signal-caller was forced to make the throw against a vaunted Rome High School defense with his team facing a three-point deficit inside the final minute of regulation.
And yet, the result didn’t vary.
Morris’ ball glided through the night sky and into the outstretched hands of Waldrop, who twisted through the air and held on for the 20-yard touchdown with 20 seconds to go, lifting the No. 1 Trojans to a 24-20 win over the No. 7 Wolves at Grisham Stadium.
“Austin made an unbelievable catch on an unbelievable throw,” Carrollton head coach Sean Calhoun said. “The offensive line protected, the running back protected, the other receivers did what they were supposed to do to pull everybody else away. It was all 11 [players] united as one, and something special happened. I’m just humbled to be a part of it.”
Grisham Stadium was transformed into an emerald sea on Friday as Carrollton called for a Green Out game to honor senior Chase McDaniel, who’s continuing his fight against liver cancer.
As Calhoun stood at midfield after accepting countless congratulatory hugs and high-fives from the Black and Gold faithful, he released an incredulous sigh. With an illuminating smile that stood no chance of being removed from his face, he gave thanks to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and Trojan Nation before praising his team for the comeback victory.
“The biggest thing that I talked to our kids about [was] we knew it was going to be a war,” Calhoun said. “It was a four-quarter war, and we fought. We answered the bell and kept on answering, and answering and answering.”
Earlier this week, Calhoun referenced a rectangular sign in his office that reads “Score More Than Opponent” while discussing his keys to securing the win against Rome.
His Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Region 7-AAAAA) failed to execute four quarters of perfect football on Friday. They were out-gained 290-234 in total offense and were edged in the turnover battle due to a lost fumble.
But at the end of the night, they simply found a way to put more points on the scoreboard.
“We made mistakes, and we made some really good plays,” Calhoun said. “But you know what? Whether it’s a win by four points or one, we’re 4-0. We’re going to enjoy this one, I promise you that.”
With both teams getting off to sluggish starts offensively, it was Carrollton’s special teams unit that initially gave the Trojans the edge.
At the end of Rome’s first drive of the night, Carrollton senior Cyrus McClure rushed and blocked a punt before scooping the ball up and sprinting into the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown to put his team up 7-0 with 9:10 to play.
Two possessions later, the Rome (2-2, 1-1) offense was eventually stalled and forced to punt once again. This time the ball made it into the air, but it was promptly returned for a 76-yard touchdown by sophomore Terrell Carmicheal to make it 14-0 with 4:46 to go.
The Wolves would get on the board on senior Alonzo Rodriguez’ 27-yard field goal with 11:53 left in the second quarter.
The Trojans quickly answered, however, when Carrollton junior Damean Dominguez knocked a 32-yard field goal through the uprights to push Carrollton’s lead back out to 17-3.
After leading most of the night, Carrollton watched as its 14-point lead at the break dwindled away in the second half while its offense failed to produce points.
Rome's first touchdown came on a 26-yard passing touchdown from junior quarterback Caleb Ellard to fellow junior Jaquavious Wise with 6:13 to go in the third quarter. The Wolves later pulled within striking distance with 5:39 left in the fourth on Rodriguez’ 26-yard field goal.
After forcing a three-and-out on the Trojans’ ensuing drive, Rome produced a 60-yard drive of its own that ended with senior Ahijah Blackwell putting the Wolves on top with a 21-yard rushing score with 55 seconds left in the contest.
Carrollton’s game-winning drive was propelled by a 30-yard rush from Morris that ended with a 15-yard personal foul penalty to put the Trojans on the Rome 35. Four plays later, Morris hit Waldrop on a corner route to seal the game.
The win ended Carrollton’s three-year losing skid to the Wolves, who’ve won three straight region titles and hadn’t come up short in a region contest since 2016.
“This is on the road to our goal, which is winning a region championship and state championship,” Calhoun said. “This doesn’t get us either one, but it’s moving in the right direction.”
The Trojans will try to take another step toward their end goal next Friday when they travel to East Paulding.