WARNER ROBINS — I feel bad for any International City resident who stayed at home Friday night rather than making the trip to McConnell-Talbert.
I feel worse for the few Warner Robins fans who left after their team fell behind 20-0 to rival Northside early in the third quarter.
They missed a doozie.
For all the great games that have made the Northside-Warner Robins rivalry one of the best in the Southeast, it would be hard to believe many have ended the way Friday’s did. Warner Robins scored 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points for a 21-20 win over the second-ranked team in GHSA Class AAAAA. It was the first time the Demons’ seniors have beaten the Eagles, who can still clinch a Region 1-AAAAA championship with a win in their season finale against Colquitt County.
To beat Northside was probably enough for the Demons, but to snap the streak the way they did added much more meaning to the win.
“Coach said there is no other feeling like when you beat Northside,” Warner Robins defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker said. “You know, he’s right. It feels pretty good. It’s pretty special with the heart we showed.”
This is a rivalry where legends are made. Players who make huge plays in games like this don’t have to buy a lot of meals later in life when they’re wearing their letterman’s jacket around town.
Years from now, one of those legendary figures will be Maurice Dudley.
Dudley sat on the bench for three years, waiting for his chance to play quarterback for the Demons. Warner Robins head coach Bryan Way picked Dudley as the starter this year because he earned it and because he was the kind of quarterback who made good decisions. He had gone eight games before throwing his first interception on a shovel pass Friday.
His stats certainly weren’t gaudy this season. But Way needed his quarterback to make some big plays while staring at a big deficit. Dudley responded with one huge pass to set up a touchdown run and the game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter — he had one all season before the game — as the Demons made their furious rally. That final touchdown came on a 47-yard heave to running back Jonathan Jackson on fourth-and-7 with two minutes to play in the game.
“I’ve been telling coach to call that play all year,” Jackson said. “I looked ‘Mo’ in the eyes and the huddle and said, ‘Throw it to me. It’s a touchdown, and we’re celebrating.’ ”
The win was vindication of sorts for the Demons, who played their worst game of the season last week against Colquitt County, a loss that put their playoff hopes on life support. They followed that up with a dreary 30 minutes to start the city championship, too.
“We didn’t look like we wanted to win for a half,” Way said.
But something clicked inside of the Demons somewhere in the third quarter. Yes, Northside helped them out a lot with a roughing the kicker, a muffed punt and a questionable pass interference call, all of which led to Warner Robins touchdowns. But those big plays still had to be made by Warner Robins players. Northside still had its chances to make some stops. It couldn’t. The Eagles had the ball with two timeouts with 1:59 and couldn’t pick up a first down.
“I have all the love and respect in the world for Northside,” Whitaker said. “I have a lot of friends on the team. But you get tired of hearing that crap about Northside being better than you. At some point, you have to stand up for yourself. We played a (heck) of a ballgame.”
And everyone at McConnell-Talbert Stadium would agree with that.
Contact Jonathan Heeter at 744-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org