By MATTHEW BROWN
Journal Sports Writer
Looking to avoid the mess of a three-way tie in other regions (including the one paired with 2-AAAAA in the state first round), Warner Robins High secured sole possession of second place Friday by holding off the persistent Lakeside High Panthers of Evans 40-19 at McConnell-Talbert Stadium.
Ironically, it was Lakeside-Evans that the Demons and head coach Bryan Way defeated in the first round of last season’s GHSA football playoffs. Both schools were placed in the same region for the next two years, and the Panthers had to settle for fourth place and a guaranteed trip to Ware County for this year’s opening round.
The pairings for Warner Robins and first-place Northside were not settled Friday, for there was a three-way tie for second place in 3-AAAAA. Richmond Hill, Effingham County and Glynn Academy all had 5-2 records, but tiebreakers will send Effingham here to face Northside and Richmond Hill to face Warner Robins.
The Demons, for their part, were looking to get back on the winning track at home after an epic contest with Northside the weekend before. The Eagles won by a touchdown and went on to complete a third-straight 10-0 regular season under Kevin Kinsler by shutting out Evans High.
Warner Robins’ DeAnthony Mack had two touchdowns against Lakeside-Evans, one rushing the football and the other catching a short Caden Johnston pass. Johnston added a second scoring toss to Jacob Jamerson, a tight end in the T-formation. Reggie Gordon, a sophomore, rushed for two touchdowns.
On the defensive side, Michael Callaway, Dyvonte Collins and Rod Harris all intercepted passes from Panther quarterback Hunter Banks. Lakeside-Evans ran an imaginative spread offense and broke out big plays from Jonathan Edwards of 77 and 87 yards. Those plays, plus an interception returned into the end zone, helped make for an uneasy second half on the Demon sideline.
Banks showed no hesitation in rearing back and throwing the football from one end of the field to the other. But when Lakeside-Evans had the first possession, Warner Robins’ Xavier Ethridge was able to get to Banks on third down and bring out the Panther punt unit. The football sailed from the center to the end zone, and the home team had two points one minute into play.
Harris pulled off a 51-yard return on the ensuing free kick, which set up Warner Robins to add to the lead. Facing 3rd-and-1, tailback Danny Hite Jr. slipped, but still fell forward for the first down on the Panther 18-yard-line.
The Lakeside-Evans defense did swarm Mack on two tries around end in this series, and because of that Warner Robins had fourth down on the 13. Matt Monday, though, made his 30-yard field goal try for the unusual 5-0 edge.
The only time the Panthers went ahead Friday came two plays into its next possession. From the 23, Edwards sprung free taking an end-around run and raced into the Demon end zone at the 7:07 mark of the opening quarter. Colby Ellis, who made a game-winning field goal to snatch away a win from Houston County High on his last visit to McConnell-Talbert, missed his first PAT try.
So only down by one, Warner Robins was faced with an important 4th-and-inches on its own 25. Despite the arguments of a simulated snap from the visiting side, officials ruled an offsides.
The Demons went on to ground out first down after first down, Gordon hitting a hole for 12 yards to the 50, and Johnston throwing over the middle to Danny Hite III on the Panther 38. Mack rushed for 11 in one tote and was wide open in the flat for 11 more on the 15. Hite Jr. took three straight rushes to the 4.
From three yards out, Mack crossed into the end zone, and Monday’s PAT kick (he was perfect on the night) had the score 12-6 at 1:39 of the first.
Banks decided not once, but two times to challenge the right post on the pass, this corner defended by Collins. The junior deflected a deep ball thrown from the Panther 34, and on the very next snap he intercepted Banks and pulled off a huge return to the 15.
Still in the first quarter, Mack ran the ‘wildcat’ up to the 4. The teams switched ends for the second period, and Gordon went left tackle for the touchdown and 19-6 lead.
Everything kept going right on both sides for Warner Robins. Jamerson pressured Banks into a grounding penalty, and Wesley Davis and Kyle Priser stopped the run to put Lakeside-Evans in a three-and-out. With a terrible punt, the Demons started a drive on the Panther 25.
Things didn’t go to well from the 14 with two holding penalties, one taking away a touchdown catch. It was 3rd-and-14 at the 18, when Mack caught a short pass in the left flat and maneuvered his way to the left pylon. Officials signaled touchdown, which upped the lead to 26-6 at 7:38.
Senior linebacker Jason Scott had a tackle-for-a-loss on the ensuing possession, and Mack – at free safety – broke up a fourth-down pass after the visitors crossed the 50. Starting from the WR 35, Hite Jr. flipped field position with a counter run to the Panther 38.
First downs kept coming, Mack making a 13-yard catch and Gordon going left end to the 14 with 1:03 to go. From the 8, Gordon scored his second touchdown, and Monday kicked WR to the 33-6 halftime advantage. Jarrod Crum, another linebacker, sacked Banks right before the break.
To start the second half, the Demons took a lot of time away (five minutes), but did not cash in a drive that began with Mack’s jet sweep run of 33 yards. Six more plays (and some penalties) had the ball on the 1, but Warner Robins could not cross the important line.
Banks threw to McTier Mosley for a first down on the 29, and an interference call next put the ball on the 44. Plays by Cameron McKinney, Ethridge and Jermaine Abron up front, plus Priser’s stop of Edwards on a screen, turned the football over on downs on the 49.
The Lakeside-Evans defense forced a punt, Monday kicking 38 yards to the Panther 13. From there, Banks hit Edwards open on the right side, and he was in the end zone at the 1:37 mark. The attempt for two points failed (33-12).
To start the fourth, Warner Robins had first down on its 44, but Mack’s 49-yard run was negated by a hold. On second down at the 38, Stephen Houzah read a flare pass and scored to cut the Demon lead to 14, 33-19, with 10:39 left.
This time, the home team both protected the ball and kept the flags off the field in driving 79 yards. Johnston, who scored off the read option against Northside, pulled off his first fake on 3rd-and-2 and gained 51 yards to the Panther 30.
The offensive front created a hole for Gordon to get 16 yards. With another gap, Gordon was on the 3. Johnston then hit Jamerson for the touchdown at 8:13.
On a play with a lot of moves made by Banks, Callaway picked off a pass on the Demon 5 at 7:39. Monday hit a 39-yard punt, and before Harris intercepted a ball with four to play, Shane Bowie and Priser made stops to put Lakeside-Evans at third down.