Northside-Warner Robins completed one pass during Saturday’s Class 6A first-round playoff game against Brunswick High, but that was all the Eagles needed.
Quarterback Marcus Jolley connected on a pop pass with Kobie Phillips to put Northside up 24-21 with two minutes to play in the game. Brunswick’s comeback would fall short as quarterback Jamarius Stevens was picked in the end zone by Kentrez Anthony with 16 seconds left to seal the win for the Eagles.
Brunswick head coach Sean Pender lamented the Pirates’ missed opportunities.
“Turnovers decided the game,” Pender said. “We made plays at times, but we didn’t make them at the end.”
A turnover put the Pirates behind early in the first quarter. Running back Shaq Robinson fumbled on the second play of the game, and Northside recovered it at the Brunswick 33-yard line. Two plays later, Jolley ran in from 7 yards out to put the Eagles up 7-0.
The Pirates proceeded to drive down the field on their next drive. Stevens scampered 32 yards to set Brunswick up at the Northside 22-yard line. A third-down pass from Stevens to Alonzo Brown put the Pirates at the Northside 4. Robinson rushed 3 yards down to the 1, but lost that gain on the next snap.
Stevens was stopped on a run and his fourth-down pass fell incomplete to give the ball back to Northside.
The Brunswick defense forced the Eagles to punt, and Jaylen Jackson returned the punt 31 yards to the Northside 29. A Stevens run and a pass to Brown got the Pirates in the red zone again, but three incompletions set up fourth-and-10 from the Northside 15.
The Pirates lined up for the field goal but Stevens, also the field goal holder, pulled the ball and tried to pass for the score on a fake. The ball landed incomplete to keep the Pirates scoreless.
“We got in the red zone a couple of times early and didn’t score,” Pender said. “We weren’t able to finish the drives.”
Brunswick’s offense was able to convert on its third time in the red zone. Stevens connected on four passes in a five-play drive, the last going 10 yards to a diving Brown to tie the game at 7-7 with 10 minutes to play in the first half.
The game didn’t stay tied for long. Northside’s Eric Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 86 yards for a score to put the Eagles back on top 14-7. Smith also was Northside’s leading rusher with 104 yards on 19 carries.
Brunswick’s offense went back to work on its next drive with Stevens connecting three times with receiver DJ Whitfield, including a 38-yard hookup that Whitfield took all the way to the Northside 6. Robinson rushed in two plays later to tie the game at 14-14 halfway through the second quarter.
Both teams were scoreless until Northside took advantage of a defensive stop that set up the Eagles with great field position. Northside’s running attack couldn’t break out any big gains, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Brunswick provided the biggest gain. Cory Munson’s 39-yard field goal attempt sailed true through the uprights to put the Eagles up 17-14.
Northside held its slim lead into the fourth quarter. The Pirates began driving with less than 10 minutes to play. A lateral from Jaylen Jackson to Stevens led to a 14-yard gain. Stevens would then hit Whitfield on a 40-yard strike down the sideline. Whitfield sold out and dove to make the catch while staying inbounds.
That catch put the Pirates at the 15-yard line. A 12-yard connection to Jackson got the ball down to the Northside 3 but like their second possession, the Pirates’ first two runs were stoned by the Eagles.
Stevens took matters into his own hands, faking the give to Robinson and sprinting outside the tackle box and into the end zone to put the Pirates up 21-17 with six minutes to play.
Northside didn’t panic, sticking to the running game that had incrementally moved the ball down the field all game. The Eagles converted a third-and-2 from their own 47 to keep the drive going with three minutes left.
Two plays later, Jolley faked a handoff to Smith, pulled up and throw a dart to a wide open Phillips for what would be the game-winning touchdown.
The Pirates got the ball back with two minutes to play. After converting a first down, Steven hit Whitfield for another big gainer, this time 43 yards, down to the Northside 21. A pass interference against the Eagles put the ball Northside 11. After a short pass to Whitfield, Stevens tried to thread the middle of the field, but Anthony cut underneath the intended receiver and picked off the pass to end Brunswick’s chances of a comeback.
The Pirates had the ball in the red zone but came away with no points three times in the game.
Stevens, a senior, finished what would be his last game 23-of-38 passing for 304 yards, one touchdown and the one interception. Stevens also rushed for 105 yards on 13 carries and a score.
Whitfield hauled in 12 passes for 165 yards to lead the Brunswick receivers.
Pender thanked all the seniors for their effort in his first year at the helm.
“I’m sad for them,” Pender said. “We wanted to keep playing. This team has the ability to keep playing. To lose in the first round is difficult. This is a senior class that has been through a lot. They responded and did well through the year. We just came up short.”
The Pirates finished the season with a 7-3 mark and a piece of the Region 2-6A championship. While the loss hurts, Pender said the team made great strides after going 5-5 and missing the playoffs last year.
“We’ve come a long way from last year,” Pender said. “We put a lot of hard work in. Being co-region champs and getting the chance to play in the postseason is something that hasn’t happened here for a couple of years. We had a lot of good points, it’s just a heartbreaking loss.”