Tonight in the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) state quarterfinals, The Warner Robins Demons will host the Clarke Central Gladiators. This matchup takes me back to the 1985 State Championship game which was played between these two teams in Athens, Georgia. In fact, I start shivering immediately when I think about it. It was the coldest high school football game I have ever attended. I had to pull up the weather history to find the exact temperature which was 29 degrees at kickoff. That was cold.
The 1985 season was my first full season of attending Warner Robins football games. The team finished the regular season undefeated at 10-0 which was capped with a thrilling 21-14 overtime win over crosstown rivals Northside. Warner Robins defeated Southwest Macon 40-14 and then Northside again 27-0 in the region playoffs. Warner Robins edged Lowndes 8-7 in penetration in the first round and then beat Bradwell Institute 28-14 in the semifinals.
I decided to make the two-hour trip to Athens for the game. At the time I was a single 21-year-old man in the Air Force and I was able to convince a date to go with me to the game. More on that later. When I arrived at the game I had general admission tickets and the only seats I could find were the front row of bleacher seats in one of the end zones. I had a blanket and attempted to keep warm but the cold weather made the blanket as stiff as a sheet of plywood. The bleachers were also full of some Clarke Central fans – one of which would purposely yell in my frozen ear every time his team made a big play. I might have moved had I not been frozen to the bleacher. I think every part of my body was cold that night. I certainly wasn’t a whimp to the cold weather since I had just been transferred to Robins Air Force Base from Thule, Greenland and it was a painfully freezing reminder of Greenland.
Although the game was statistically close, Clarke Central recovered three Warner Robins fumbles, turning the first two into a pair of field goals (31 and 41 yards) by John Kasay, who also put four of five kickoffs deep into the end zone to help keep the Warner Robins offense backed up. Additionally both Gladiator touchdowns were big plays, the first a 53-yard pass from Robbie Kamerschen to Tommy Stewart on the Gladiators’ first possession of the second quarter and the second a 54-yard run by tailback Richard Jewel on Clarke’s first possession of the third period.
In comparison, the Gladiators committed only one turnover, a fumble at their own 42 late in the second quarter. After recovering, the Demons moved to a first down on the 4-yard line, but the Clarke Central defense held on three straight running plays inside the 2 and took over on downs, preserving a 13-7 halftime lead.
Kamerschen and Jewel accounted for the majority of Clarke’s 291 yards total offense, as the senior quarterback completed four of eight passes for 122 yards while the senior tailback rushed 14 times for 108 yards.
Warner Robins, which totaled 245 yards offense and led 14-13 in first downs, got 101 rushing yards on 16 carries from junior Jeff Thompson. But 98 of those came in the first half. Warner Robins totaled just 53 yards and two first downs after intermission.
The game was a disappointment. I had to drive the long trip back home. The only consolation was that my car had heat and I would be able to thaw out on the drive. I also had my date with me.
On the drive back I got that “You’re a nice guy but I just want to be friends” line. Ouch. My football team and my dating suffered a bitter defeat that night. That night was cold on so many levels.
But, as they say, it all worked out for the best. As for Warner Robins, it took three seasons before they captured the state title and demolished Brookwood in 1988.
No high school game was colder than that night in Athens.