Eagles fall short of championship game

Sun News correspondentDecember 12, 2012 

Nowhere in the high school football landscape are the expectations of greatness felt more keenly than at Northside. It’s a mantle coaches and players in the program are eager to wear.

From a time even before spring practice begins, Northside signs on for one goal: a state championship. Ten-win seasons are nice and region titles carry cache, but the ring is the thing.

When your goal is all or nothing, the devastation of defeat is total. There is no consolation prize.

“Our kids know the season is only gonna end one of two ways,” Northside head coach Kevin Kinsler said on Sunday. “Either you’re going to be elated or heartbroken.”

For the 2012 season, it’s heartbreak. The Eagles staged a dramatic comeback, but still lost 24-17 in overtime at Ware County on Friday in the Class AAAAA Final Four.

It was the second consecutive semifinal setback for Northside.

Last year, Tucker rallied past the Eagles in a state semifinal with an improbable defensive touchdown that sparked the Tigers to an eventual state championship. Friday, Ware County shook off a Northside haymaker and staggered onward to a Dec. 14 title bout with Gainesville in the Georgia Dome.

Northside out-gained the Gators, but the Eagles committed two turnovers and missed a field goal. The latter came at the end of a long drive to open the second half.

Faced with the prospects of a tie game, the Gators instead drove 80 yards after the miss and boosted their advantage to 17-7.

That seemed to signal the end for the Eagles. But as it proved in a quarterfinal rematch with Tucker, Northside plays the full 48 minutes. Quarterback Glenn Smith threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Justin Burnam with 20 seconds left in the game. John Tignor’s PAT cut the Eagles deficit to 17-14.

Incredibly, Tignor then drove an on-side kick that Northside recovered at the Ware County 25. One play later, injured kicker Isaac Rivera delivered a tying 42-yard field goal.

Unfortunately for Northside, the momentum failed to carry into overtime. The Gators scored on their first possession, then stopped Northside on a fourth down to end the game.

The drama played out before a couple thousand Northside fans, many of whom jammed into one of five buses that made the trek through the Okefenokee Swamp.

“Northside support is second to none,” Kinsler said. “It’s a great feeling for our kids to play in front of that many fans and it’s something that I appreciate.”

The football team earned that following through sustained excellence. The program has a working streak of 15 consecutive 10-win seasons. This year’s region title was its eighth in the last nine years. Those are positives.

“You can’t ever take winning for granted,” Kinsler said.

Pressed to touch on some of the season’s highlights, Kinsler spoke of the region championship and important wins over three county rivals. He spoke of the dedication of the players and coaches.

“The kids did an amazing job of playing week to week,” Kinsler said. “They did a great job for Northside and represented Northside well.”

Still, Sunday proved too soon for Kinsler to fully reflect on the 2012 season. His heart wasn’t really in it.

“It’s tough when 13-1 seems like a bad season, but that’s the choice we make,” Kinsler said.

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