WARNER ROBINS — After a promising first quarter in their Region 1-AAAAA opener, the short-handed Thomas County Central Yellow Jackets fell to the No. 4-ranked and defending region champion Warner Robins Demons 45-10 Friday night in Warner Robins.
With several starters unable to play due to injuries and others unable to go because of a stomach virus that kept dozens of players out of practice through the week, the upstart Yellow Jackets were able to hang close early with the tough Demons on their homecoming.
"We got a good run in the first quarter or so, and I was proud of how our guys fought through some adversity there," Central head coach Ashley Henderson said.
The very beginning of the game went about as bad as it could for the visiting team, as Central's Jabais Kerbo slipped on the turf on the opening kickoff and the ball made contact on the ground at the 3-yard line. With Yellow Jacket quarterback Kalique Guyton standing in his end zone to take the first snap of the game, the massive Demon defensive line collapsed the pocket and tackled Guyton in the end zone for a safety on the first play from scrimmage.
However, after the ensuing free kick, the Yellow Jacket defense bowed its back and caused Warner Robins to go three-and-out to force a punt. Led by Guyton's passing, Central's offense moved the ball effectively down the field to set up a 34-yard field goal by Yellow Jacket kicker Hector Rodriguez on his first-ever varsity field goal attempt. The kick was good, and Central led 3-2. After forcing another Demon punt, Central again put together an impressive offensive drive capped with a perfectly executed trick play. With Guyton again effectively passing the ball, mainly to senior wide wide receiver Kerbo, the Yellow Jackets moved down to the Demon 23. Guyton threw a wide lateral pass out to senior Carrington Robinson, who in turn threw a perfect strike to junior tight end Kai Brown in the end zone for a touchdown. With Rodriguez's extra point, Central led the stunned Demons 10-2.
Warner Robins answered on their next possession. Led by 6-foot-4, 200-pound quarterback Jalen Addie's running, the Demons offense came right down the field for a touchdown. Opting to go for two, Warner Robins ran their own double pass to tie the game at 10-10.
After a short Central punt, Addie hit senior Marcayll Jones for a 40-yard touchdown pass. Last season Jones broke a Georgia state record with over 1,700 receiving yards in his junior year. With the TD, Warner Robins led 17-10.
After another Yellow Jacket drive was stopped with a controversial penalty for illegal forward pass called after Central successfully converted another double pass when Guyton lateraled to Robinson who then threw back to Guyton, a 20-yard punt put Warner Robins in business at the Central 39-yard line. On first down, Addie hit 6-3, 200-pound junior receiver Xavier Hill for a touchdown pass. With the PAT, Warner Robins took a 24-10 lead into halftime.
"I thought our guys fought hard in that first half," Henderson said about Central.
After taking the second half kickoff on a 70-yard touchdown drive capped by a 28-yard pass from Addie to wide receiver Armon Porter, the massive Warner Robins defensive line — averaging 260 pounds — took control of the game, forcing Central into punts on every successive offensive series. The Demon offense methodically drove the ball on scoring drives repeatedly until the 45-10 score brought on a running clock in the fourth quarter.
"We had a heck of week adversity-wise,” Henderson concluded. "We aren't happy with the result, but we had a lot of young guys who came in here tonight and contributed, and we've got some positives to build on because of it. We've got to get healthy quick and get some of these guys back on the field for a huge home game next week.”
With the loss, Central fell to 5-2 on the season, while Warner Robins raised its record to 7-1, the Demons’ lone loss coming to Class AAAAAAA Colquitt County. The Yellow Jackets return home next week to host Harris County, who lost 23-13 to Veterans. Central and Harris are both winless in region play, so the winner of the game will have an inside edge to make the playoffs.