When Northside and Warner Robins buckle up their chin straps Tuesday, they’ll be in unfamiliar territory. But they won’t be facing unfamiliar foes.
As they take the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the state championship, both teams will be matched up against region opponents they have already faced this year.
Warner Robins (12-2) will play Bainbridge (9-5) in the GHSA-5A title game at 4:30 p.m. while Northside (9-5) will play Lee County (14-0) in the GHSA-6A championship at 8 p.m.
“It’s good and bad because you don’t know if they’re going to do the same thing they did the first time around (or) if they’re going to change it up,” said Warner Robins head coach Mike Chastain. “You prepare for how they played most of the year, and because we had a little success the first time around, you wonder what they’re going to do different.”
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The Demons had no issues with Bainbridge earlier in the season, defeating the Bearcats 38-0. But Chastain said this Bainbridge team is different than the one his team faced earlier this year.
“These guys are riding an unbelievable high right now. They’ve beaten four top-10 teams to get to this point,” Chastain said. “They’ve beaten them on some last-minute stuff or crazy plays that have kind of gone their way. It’s almost like they have a sense of, ‘Hey, we’re destined to win this thing.’ “
When the Demons faced Bainbridge earlier in the year, it was on the heels of Hurricane Michael. Chastain said the Bearcats were off school for two weeks before the teams played, and some of Bainbridge’s players still didn’t have power when the teams took the field. Chastain said his team knows this Bainbridge team will be different.
“We have to match their intensity and high early so they don’t get any momentum early,” Chastain said.
Momentum is something the Northside Eagles are riding high on as winners of five straight games after starting the season 4-5. One of those five losses was a 24-7 defeat to Lee County.
Northside will be tasked with the opposite challenge of Warner Robins: They will have to beat a team they’ve already lost to this season. Northside head coach Kevin Kinsler said they have been playing Lee County for a long time.
“It’s not like we’re unfamiliar with each other. When you get to this point, you’re going to do the things you’ve been doing well all year that have got you here,” Kinsler said. “We’re going to do the same things. They’re going to do the same things. We’re just going to try to do them a whole lot better.”
Northside will also have to do something no one else has done this year: beat Lee County.
“Our kids are playing well now. They do have a lot more confidence,” Kinsler said. “They’ve been playing hard all year, but now we’re playing a lot smarter, and that’s giving our kids confidence. But they’re playing better and better each week, too.”
Kinsler said his team will just need to minimize their mistakes, as Lee County takes advantage of those mistakes well. The Eagles led Lee County at halftime of their first showdown, but the mistakes piled up in the second half and allowed Lee County to run away with the game.
Kinsler said his team has gotten smarter over the year, which has allowed them to win five straight coming into Tuesday’s matchup for a state championship.
“All year long our kids have been playing extremely hard, but we haven’t been playing smart. We haven’t been taking the practice field to the playing field,” Kinsler said. “I think as the season went along and they kept maturing, then you started seeing them executing a lot better some of the things we (practiced) Monday through Thursday.”