WARNER ROBINS --
The brackets came off the printer, and the eyes started to trace the paths.
Northside and Warner Robins were on opposite sides of the GHSA Class AAAA playoff bracket.
Many Middle Georgians (and probably every Houston County resident) hoped the rivals would meet for the state championship game, particularly after a memorable regular-season meeting between the two.
I thought the brackets broke right for both teams and that a hyped rematch would take in December at McConnell-Talbert Stadium.
I was wrong ... back in early November of 2005.
Following an overtime classic in the regular season, Northside and Warner Robins did not play against one another for the state championship that season.
The Demons lost in the first round by Douglas County and its dynamic quarterback Ricky Dobbs, who would have a noteworthy career at Navy. The Eagles made it to the championship game, but they lost to Statesboro at Paulson Stadium.
“We didn’t hold up our end of the bargain,” said Veterans head coach David Bruce, who was the Demons’ defensive coordinator at the time. “I can’t imagine what this town would be like if those two teams played for a state championship. It would be crazy.”
Contrary to the beliefs of many fans and some of the players I interview during the year, it’s not easy to get to a championship game. Other teams’ coaches, players and fans generally want to win just as much as you do.
There’s a reason this kind of thing doesn’t happen very often. The only time two teams from the same city have played for a championship since 1990: Thomas County Central and Thomasville in 1993.
Six years after many people thought it would originally happen, an all-Warner Robins championship game is closer to reality than ever before.
The neighbors are both just one win away from a Dec. 9 meeting at the Georgia Dome with the biggest prize in the rivalry’s history on the line.
That’s not to undermine the obstacles in the way.
The Houston County teams need to vanquish a pair of undefeateds to make their rematch -- Northside won 32-24 on Sept. 30 -- a possibility.
Warner Robins (11-2) has a difficult road test against Lovejoy. This is the Wildcats’ fourth undefeated regular season since 1999, but this is their first run past the second round in program history. The Lovejoy defense has been downright dominant, pitching eight shutouts and allowing a state-best 3.5 points per game on the season.
Tucker (13-0) stands in between Northside (13-0) advancing to the state championship for the fifth time in seven years. The two teams made a little magic together in the 2007 semifinals when the Eagles overcame a 21-point halftime deficit to win 31-28 on the way to a second consecutive state championship.
The Tigers lead Class AAAA in scoring offense.
Obviously, nothing is a given for either team. Lovejoy and Tucker aren’t going to stand aside and give Houston County an early Christmas present.
Fortunately for Northside and Warner Robins, both are facing top-tier competition, so it should be a little easier to focus on their semifinals opponents. But those thoughts of that dream championship game aren’t completely absent.
“We’re going to be focused this week on Tucker,” Northside senior Josh Chester said. “Tucker has a great team. But I’d be lying if I didn’t think about the possibility of playing Warner Robins again. I think it says a lot about how much people in Warner Robins care about football that both of us are still playing.”
Contact Jonathan Heeter at 744-4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.