During Oconee County High School’s last football region championship win in 2015, the visuals and drama were right out of a major motion picture.
The Warriors defeated Jefferson High School on a gimmick two-point conversion in their ninth game of the season.
They then faced Elbert County High School in a muddy Warrior Stadium, all the while listening for word on the outcome of the JHS and Hart County High School game to determine if their game even mattered in the region championship hunt.
The Warriors didn’t control their own destiny that night.
It didn’t take away from bravado of the moment, nor did it make the mud angels any less soothing that night in 2015.
Fast-forward nearly five years to the day.
The OCHS flag flew firm and strong over all following the Warriors’ 35-7 win over rival North Oconee High School last Friday.
The Warriors claimed the Hog Mountain Bowl trophy, Fox 5’s hand that goes to the winning team in the game of the week and the ultimate prize, the Region 8-4A championship.
It was their first region title since 2015—not to say 2015 wasn’t special, but Friday was different. Since the 2015 region title, the Warriors have been close and far away, depending on the angle of viewership.
The standings have read that the Warriors were team mired close to .500 the last three years. Watching them on the field, the injuries they suffered were a crippling reality for the last two seasons at least.
That reality made the 2019 Warriors hungry.
They were healthy for the first time. Allowing themselves to slack on the football side of things wasn’t something the Warriors were willing to accept.
“I think a lot of the struggles we went through last year and being close, but yet being so far away made them hungry,” Noland said. “This is a really mature group of guys that get it. When you’ve had guys that are juniors and seniors and have been in the program for three or four years, that’s what you hope they do. They’re a fun group to coach.”
The Warriors controlled their destiny on Friday and they took it to heart.
The Warriors walked into Titan Stadium on Friday night knowing the stakes and earned their place at the top of the region.
Noland admits he was anxious to see how his team would handle the moment.
The Warriors had two weeks to stew on Friday’s opportunity after defeating St. Pius X Catholic on Oct. 11.
“When you get in a situation like this, the moment can define you or you can define the moment,” Noland said. “If you get caught up in all those things that don’t matter, then you don’t play good football. The atmosphere and all those things can get you. I felt like they had a great focus, not just this week, but in preparation. I knew we were going to play really good or really bad. I could sense how anxious they were to get here to play.”
It was really good for the Warriors.
Things went really good from nearly the beginning until the end. The Warriors quickly got on the board behind senior Jimmy Boswell’s 3-yard touchdown plunge on the Warriors’ opening drive of the night.
The Warrior defense shut down the high-powered Titans’ offense and got the ball back after four plays and then senior quarterback Max Johnson hit fellow senior Ben Noland for a 59-yard touchdown.
“It was big,” Ben said of the long touchdown. “It was all because of the line and the quarterback. Everybody just came together and I made the play.”
From there, the rout was on. The Warriors continued to lean on Boswell and backfield mate Darius Norman. Together they totaled 272 yards on the ground. Boswell carried the ball 29 times for 184 yards and a score.
Norman had 17 carries for 88 yards. The younger Noland led the way in the receiving category with five catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson was 11-for-17 with 150 yards, three touchdowns and a rushing touchdown.
The Warriors set out the keep the Titans’ explosive offense off the field. They accomplished that in part by running the ball and squeezing the clock once they got the lead. The Warriors’ defense made the challenge of holding an offense averaging 38.3 points a game coming into Friday, much more realistic.
The Titans were held to 165 total yards of offense and coerced NOHS’ junior quarterback Bubba Chandler into five interceptions on the night.
“Our plan coming here was to keep the ball as long as we could,” Noland said. “They’re such a quick-strike. We wanted to take some shots when they presented themselves.”
The Warriors’ defense has been a strong point for the last two seasons, Matt Cates, a former player of Noland’s from Stephens County High School, is in his second season as defensive coordinator. Cates has quickly drawn the praise of Noland for being able to successfully defend so many different types of offenses just in the last few weeks.
“He’s special and I knew that when I hired him last year,” Noland said. “He’s a great human being. He’s done an unbelievable job for two years.”
The Warriors have one game left in the regular season. They host Madison County High School on Friday night to officially wrap up their region slate. Regardless of the outcome the Warriors will host a Class 4A state playoff game the following Friday night.
The Titans will do the same. Despite their loss to the Warriors NOHS finishes second in Region 8-4A and will host a first round game as well.