Tonight the Warner Robins Demons will play the Starr’s Mill Panthers in the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Class 5A state semifinals.
The last time they played each other was in the 2000 playoffs and I was there on November 24, 2000 in the rain, watching in disbelief as Warner Robins was upset by this strangely named school.
The lasting memory wasn’t necessarily the game but when I was standing in line the day before to get my ticket for the game. There were some guys talking about the Demons’ opponent. Here’s how the exchange went:
“Whadda ya know about this team we’re playing this week?”
“They got a bunch of white guys and they’re slow.”
It was quite an ominous moment as I had hoped that the team didn’t fall into the same mindset about their opponent. It’s a funny thing about jinxes and these guys put the hooey on Warner Robins.
Warner Robins, which was the #1 team in the state at the time, was upset by Starr’s Mill 21-7 in overtime. The Demons had just come off an impressive 41-0 win in the first round over Colquitt County but they obviously underestimated the Starr’s Mill Panthers. Starr’s Mill eventually went on to lose in the state semifinals to Harrison that season. Starr’s Mill had only been in their third year of playing football. Warner Robins packed it up for the season.
I remembered that rain on the day of the game played a big role in the game as it gave Warner Robins problems. The Demons had Willie Reid who was one of the states top players. He was not able to get on track in the rain and the mud on that night. However, Starr’s Mill fullback, Jason Laney had the game of his life on that night as he sloshed through the muddy field for 144 yards and two touchdowns. I watched in anguish as Warner Robins’ defenders could not seem to bring the big man down throughout the game.
I have never forgotten that conversation in the ticket line and remembering how the “slow, white guy” ended the season for Warner Robins. Today it is 19 years later and I hope that folks remember that game and have the kids ready to play Starr’s Mill.
In tonight’s game, Warner Robins (12-1) is again favored to beat Starr’s Mill (10-3) as they were in 2000. This season Starr’s Mill has reeled off eight straight wins since its uncharacteristic three-game losing streak. No. 1 Warner Robins’ lone loss has been to Colquitt County.
Starr’s Mill will try to control the ball on the ground, eat away the clock and improve their odds by keeping the ball away from Warner Robins as they did in the 2000 game. Quarterback Hunter Lawson runs the option attack and 1,000-yard runner Kalen Sims and Ben Bodne. Warner Robin’s QB Jalen Addie has thrown for 2,142 yards and six touchdowns and run for another 536 yards. Marcayll Jones, who set the state receiving a year ago and has 37 catches for 731 yards this year. The Demons have a two-pronged running attack in Jahlen Rutherford (1,246 yards) and James Smith (840).