WARNER ROBINS — The hugs continued well after the final horn sounded. And while accepting them from his players, Warner Robins head coach Bryan Way broke the embrace with the same words over and over.
“That-a-way to keep playing,” Way told the players. “Good things happen when you keep playing.”
Make that great.
Jonathan Jackson caught a 47-yard touchdown heave from quarterback Maurice Dudley on fourth down, and Kyle Floyd kicked a 35-yard extra point as Warner Robins rallied for a stunning 21-20 win over rival Northside in an instant classic version of the city championship on Friday at McConnell-Talbert Stadium.
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The Demons scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to beat Northside for the first time since 2004.
“It’s been too long,” Way said.
In the process, Warner Robins (6-3, 4-2 GHSA Region 1-AAAAA) kept its playoff hopes alive. The Demons finish the season at Lowndes next week. Northside (8-1, 5-1) can still win the region title if it beats Colquitt County in its season finale.
Against the Eagles, Warner Robins scored on the second play of the fourth quarter when fullback Brian Sutton slammed in from the 1-yard line to cut Northside’s lead to 21-7. Warner Robins then got the break of the game on its next possession.
After a holding penalty stalled the drive, punter Caleb Floyd sent a kick to Northside’s Brison Williams. The Eagles’ senior signalled fair catch, but the ball slipped through his hands. Darius Rogers-Wilson recovered for Warner Robins at the Northside 48.
“That was probably one of the biggest plays,” Way said.
It was a bad break for Williams, who to that point had played a tremendous game on both sides of the ball.
Warner Robins cut deeper into the lead with 5:47 to play when fullback Dominic Butts rushed up the middle for a 7-yard touchdown. Trailing just 21-14, Way chose to kick deep and let his defense do its thing.
That unit responded and forced another punt. Warner Robins took possession at midfield with 2:59 to play. A run and two pass plays yielded a fourth-and-long. Under pressure, Dudley threw the ball deep.
“I knew he could slip and and get behind their cornerback,” Dudley said of Jackson. “I just threw it up. I knew he could go get it and he made the play.”
Jackson was alone at the Northside 20 after the defender had slipped down. The Demons’ running back just had to wait for the ball to get to him before he turned and sprinted for a touchdown.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Jackson said. “I just watched it in.”
The Demons’ celebration drew a penalty flag and Floyd’s PAT came from the 25. But the sophomore drilled it.
With Williams, one of the state’s top defensive backs, lined up as a receiver, Northside cruised 75 yards in seven plays for a touchdown on its opening drive. Williams ran around end for 30 yards on the game’s first play. He later caught a 23-yard pass from Briar Van Brunt to set up a 1-yard scoring run by Van Brunt a few plays later.
After Northside’s Devon Pike kicked field goals of 50 and 27 yards, the Eagles took a 13-0 lead into intermission. They needed just one play in the third quarter to make that a 20-0 margin. Van Brunt connected with Williams for a 36-yard touchdown pass and a 20-0 lead.
But the Eagles ran just 10 plays the rest of the game, and the Demons’ come back was on.
“We never gave up,” tackle Andrew Lauritsen said.