Face Gainesville in quarterfinal next Friday
By AARON BRENNER
HAMILTON, Ga. -- The third time's a charm, they say. So is the third round, uncharted territory for Harris County football.
A perfectly-executed trick play was just one of many fortuitous moments for underdog Harris County in a fairly dominant performance, toppling Warner Robins 31-21 in the GHSA Class AAAAA second round Friday night at Tiger Stadium.
The Tigers (8-4) were winless their first four games, ending Sept. 21. They haven't lost since. And now they're in the state quarterfinals for the first time in the school's 56-year history, ready to host Gainesville, a 61-42 winner over Kell, next Friday.
"This is crazy," punter and wide receiver DiQuan Roberts said. "I wasn't even expecting to make it this far. I couldn't be happier. Everybody's talking about it, so hate it or love it, the underdog's on top. It doesn't phase us."
Roberts was caught in the thick of two pivotal first-quarter plays which filled the Demons (9-3) with doubt and paved the way for the Tigers' eighth straight win.
After Warner Robins dropped a punt -- one of three lost fumbles and six total cough-ups on the night -- Harris County recovered on the Demons' 29-yard-line.
That drive appeared harmless, when the Tigers couldn't move the chains and set up a formation for strong-legged kicker Isaac Grimes to attempt a 41-yard field goal.
Except he didn't. Harris County quarterback Justin Wright, also the Tigers' hold
er, took the long snap, stood, and lofted a lob to Roberts, who pulled off some perfect camouflage by the Tigers' sideline and hauled in a 21-yard reception.
"We ran it against Northside, we got called back for an illegal formation," Roberts said. "We ran it against Thomas County for the region championship, and we got a false start. This is the first time it worked."
Three plays later, Wright nudged across the goal line on third-and-goal from the 1, granting the Tigers a two-touchdown cushion.
The Tigers had practiced the special-teams shocker all season long, but as Roberts said, hadn't pulled it off in a game.
"We always talk about field position and turnovers," Harris County coach Tommy Parks said. "My assistant coaches have dedicated more time to the special teams side of the football. In games like this right here, it's paid off."
The momentum began even earlier. Upon getting the ball to open the game, Harris County started three-and-out, and Roberts punted away. After the ball rolled to a rest, the Tigers' defense began heading onto the field, but were held back when Warner Robins was flagged for roughing Roberts, granting the Tigers an automatic first down.
With second life, Harris County got a 20-yard keeper run from Wright, but little else. The drive stalled in HC territory, so Roberts booted away again.
Except Warner Robins still couldn't get its offense on the field, fumbling the punt away to the Tigers. On take three, Esaias Chapman capitalized on third-and-six, following lead blocker AJ Howard into the end zone for an 11-yard score to draw first blood.
It was a perfect first quarter. Harris County outgained its visitor 108-10 and opened up that 14-0 lead.
"I think we had them beat mentally," Chapman said. "It feels great, man. We're making history."
The Tigers gave up a 92-yard touchdown run to Reggie Gordon, but sailed to a 31-7 lead by the end of the third quarter behind two more Chapman scores.
"Esaias has been our go-to man, and obviously Warner Robins did a great job of taking Esaias away from us tonight," Parks said.
Told Chapman tallied 181 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries, despite getting "taken away", Parks grinned.
"Yeah, well, he's a force," he said. "He's a player."
Warner Robins wouldn't go away, scoring two touchdowns in 10 seconds to open the fourth quarter. Quarterback Caden Johnston ran in from 15 yards on the first play after the break, and after the Demons recovered a loose onside kick, Johnston lofted a 38-yard scoring bomb to DeAnthony Mack.
"Usually when you get up by that amount of points, the other team starts putting their heads down hanging low," Roberts said. "But they seemed to stick with it."
Harris County defensive end Jay Ellison stepped up, showing why he's gotten offers from the likes of Auburn and Georgia Tech.
"I just wanted to get on the quarterback," Ellison said. "We gave him too much time on that touchdown pass. So we knew we had to get back there. We turned up the heat on both sides."
The massive senior had a monster second half, with two sacks and a forced fumble to prevent Warner Robins from inching closer than a 10-point deficit.
"Jay's a target out there because of the notoriety he has as a high-profile recruit," Parks said. "But he's such an unselfish player, and he's just a normal guy in the locker room.
"We're just a big family, these guys have got each other's back, and that's the reason we're in the spot we're in."
Friday at Tiger Stadium
WR 0 7 0 14-21
Harris Co. 14 3 14 0-31
HC-Esaias Chapman 11 run (Issac Grimes kick) 8:05
HC-Justin Wright 1 run (Grimes kick) 3:50
WR-Reggie Gordon 92 run (Matt Monday kick) 10:57
HC-Grimes 33 FG 5:29
HC-Chapman 12 run (Grimes kick) 4:14
HC-Chapman 12 run (Grimes kick) 3:14
WR-Caleb Johnston 15 run (Monday kick) 11:54
WR-DeAnthony Mack 38 pass from Johnston (Monday kick) 11:44
Team records: Harris County 8-4. Warner Robins 9-3. Next: Harris County hosts Gainesville, 9-3 Friday at 7:30 p.m. Warner Robins is eliminated.