WARNER ROBINS -- Kevin Kinsler shook his head in disbelief.
The Northside head coach has played and coached in too many of these games to know that teams don’t always get away with mishaps.
His Eagles led their bitter rivals 13-0 in the first quarter Friday at McConnell-Talbert Stadium, but they fumbled inside the Warner Robins 5-yard line on one drive and missed an extra point. The Eagles had costly penalties, and they settled for a field goal when another drive ended inside the Demons’ 5-yard line.
All things considered, the early lead was hardly satisfying for the second-year head coach. Mistakes often catch up with teams in this game. Crazy things happen when Northside and Warner Robins get together.
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“It’s the unexpected things that happen that you count account for,” Kinsler said.
He was right to feel uneasy.
The game was long from over following the early lead, but the Eagles overcame those mistakes and another mixed extra point to hold on for a 32-24 win over the Demons in another classic in the storied history of the rivalry. The Eagles didn’t seal the victory until less than two minutes remained to play.
It wasn’t a stretch to conjure up memories of the 2009 game in the waning moments of this one.
Warner Robins came from 20 points down in the fourth quarter of that game, eventually winning on a 47-yard touchdown pass from Maurice Dudley to Jonathan Jackson.
The Demons looked completely overmatched early in Friday’s game, just like they did back in 2009. They turned the ball over on the first play from scrimmage -- an interception on a flea-flicker -- and Northside quickly scored.
The Eagles poured it on for a while, and they eventually led by 20 points at the half. That lead stretched to 22 points at the end of the third quarter before the Demons started what looked like another historic comeback.
Touchdowns by Brian Sutton and Michael Lee moved the Demons to within eight points with two minutes to play. They almost benefited from another of those unexpected plays when the ensuing kickoff rolled back to the 2-yard line before a Northside player landed on it a second before Warner Robins would have jumped on it and had the ball inside the 5-yard line.
“It would have been easy to give up,” Warner Robins head coach Bryan Way said. “They didn’t give up.”
An electric crowd hung on the game’s ebbs and flows of which there were many.
Each half played out like two separate games.
The Eagles dominated on defense and converted big plays on offense in the opening half. The Demons answered with a stout defense in the second half and responded with some huge plays of their own on offense.
In the end, the Eagles made the final important play when Curtis Martin rushed for 16 yards on third-and-7 with less than two minutes. The Demons came up a play short on defense.
Martin’s big conversion might have prevented a replay of the Demons’ 21-point comeback win in 2009. This series is littered with improbable comebacks, authored many times by the underdog.
Even though the favorite doesn’t always win this game, Northside looks like the better team this year, and its prospects as a state champion contender grew Friday with a win over a talented opponent.
The Demons, however, aren’t finished either. They proved their mettle as legitimate threats to any team they meet in the playoffs.
Rarely in this series have both teams leave this series with a bright future, but that’s what happened Friday night.
Contact Jonathan Heeter at 744-4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org