The marquees in front of businesses that line the major streets of Warner Robins and Fort Valley feature a familiar message.
They read “Go Trojans” or “Good Luck Trojans” in Fort Valley. The same messages — with Eagles instead of Trojans — can be found in Warner Robins.
The success of the Northside and Peach County teams during the past decade makes these scenes as commonplace in December as Christmas lights in these two Middle Georgia communities.
The programs have set the standard for winning in the area during the past decade and particularly during the past few seasons.
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“You think of Northside and Peach County, you think, ‘Great coaching, great consistency and championships,’ ” Dublin head coach Roger Holmes said. “They have been very, very successful.”
When the Trojans take the Georgia Dome field at 4:30 p.m. today — and the Eagles play at 8 p.m. — they will be chasing their third state championship in five years. Peach County will make its fourth championship game appearance this decade. Northside is going after its third championship in four years and is making its fifth championship appearance this decade and fourth in five years.
Only five Middle Georgia public schools have won state championships this decade — Northside, Peach County, Dublin, Hawkinsville and Warner Robins — but only Hawkinsville can boast multiple championships alongside Northside and Peach County. With a win today by either or both, Northside or Peach County could lay claim as the team of the decade in Middle Georgia and perhaps even in the state. Only Buford has won more than three state championships this decade, but all seven of the Wolves’ titles have come in the two smallest classifications.
“How do you measure that?” Northside head coach Conrad Nix said. “You can compare records, and I know it’s at the end of the decade, so that’s what makes it newsworthy. I just want to play really good (today) and hopefully win. Then all of that can be debated and talked about and discussed.”
Decade of dominance
Northside entered this decade on the heels of back-to-back 10-win seasons and an appearance in the 1999 state semifinals. Nix was six years into his return to Northside at the start of the decade, but he was in the middle of taking the Eagles’ program to greater heights than it saw in his first stint in Warner Robins.
That 10-win streak that started in 1998 is still intact. Buford is the only other team in the state to win 10 games in every year this decade.
The Eagles built upon a solid start to close out this decade on a furious pace.
After suffering a tough championship game loss in 2005, Nix moved his starting quarterback on that team to wide receiver to pave the way for Marques Ivory. For the next 30 games, the Eagles were unbeatable and had two state titles under their wings. They finally won that long-sought-after state championship by beating Marist in 2006, and the Eagles followed that championship up with another undefeated season that was capped by a road win over Ware County in the championship game.
After getting knocked off by eventual champion Camden County in the second round last year, Northside has skirted a projected rebuilding season to return to its fourth championship game in five seasons.
“What Northside has done is incredible,” said Dodge County head coach Lee Campbell, who led Hawkinsville to back-to-back state championships earlier this decade. “No time has really separated those championships. Then, they went up in class and are playing for another one. You think of Northside right there with Lowndes and Camden County.”
While other teams can match the Eagles’ championship tally, none can claim the same extended level of success this decade. They have won 121 games this decade, with their championship opponent Camden County coming in with 120 wins.
Northside hasn’t be able to win a championship in the highest classification, losing to Parkview in the semifinals in 1999 and the championship game 2001. The Eagles would obviously snap that streak with a win today.
Building to the championship
Peach County had been close before it finally won a state championship.
The Trojans lost in the 1992 championship game under Neal Rumble. Rodney Walker led the Trojans when they lost in the 1998 championship game.
But Rance Gillespie got the Trojans’ program turned back around after a few down years at the turn of the decade. Gillespie took the Trojans to the 2003 championship game in his third season, but they lost again, this time 12-7 to LaGrange.
Peach County fans, however, didn’t have to wait as long for the Trojans to get back to the championship game.
The Trojans rolled off 12 straight wins in 2005 after quarterback Antonio Henton returned from an injury. The Trojans didn’t face much resistance with Henton in the lineup, drilling Dougherty 35-14 in the championship game.
Peach County was equally impressive in 2006, when transfer Bryan Ellis slipped right into the quarterback role and led the Trojans to another championship with a 14-1 record. Ellis was the third straight Peach County quarterback to be named the Class AAA Offensive Player of the Year.
“(Our players) had been through 15-week schedules, been under that big-game atmosphere,” Gillespie said. “I think (getting to the championship game in 2003) helped from that standpoint. (Playing for a state championship) does a lot for the program. Kids get five extra weeks of practice. ... It helps the program substantially financially.”
Gillespie credited the administration, the community and the booster club for the success the Peach County program has enjoyed.
“(The booster club members) are football crazy,” he said. “They support the program for all the right reasons. Some of the core guys have been around for 25 years without kids in the program.”
When Gillespie left to be the offensive coordinator at Georgia Southern, he entrusted the program to longtime assistant Chad Campbell. Campbell and the Trojans suffered through injuries and misfortune to go 8-3 in 2007 and 2008.
But the Trojans have returned to their winning ways this season and are a win over Gainesville away from the first undefeated season in school history.
“(Campbell) was my pick; he deserved that job,” Gillespie said. “I was very vocal and very adamant. I was very right about that. He has done a heck of a job.”
While Peach County can’t compare with Northside in terms of wins this decade — the Eagles lead 121-101 in that department — the Trojans would be considered by some to be the Middle Georgia team of the decade with a win today and a loss by Northside.
“All I know is that Northside has an outstanding program,” Campbell said Monday. “You want to be mentioned along with them, but we’ve done pretty good here, too.”
Others to consider statewide
Lowndes won three championships in this decade, but it also had a 6-4 season in which it missed the playoffs in 2006. The Vikings also have an eight-win season and a nine-win season.
Parkview started the decade on fire, winning three straight championships. But since their loss in the 2004 championship game, the Tigers have averaged seven wins per season, including two five-win seasons.
LaGrange won three state championships in four seasons from 2001-2004. But the Grangers have two eight-win seasons in their past three and haven’t been out of the first round in those two seasons.
Charlton County won three state championship from 2005-2007, but one of those championships is shared with Dublin. Charlton County also won nine games in 2008.
Buford has an argument with its seven state championships this decade and five undefeated seasons. The Wolves, however, have won their titles in Class AA and Class A.
Camden County could win its third state championship of the decade with a win over Northside.
“I’m sure it all has to deal with who you’re pulling for,” Nix said.