Kevin Kinsler has seen a lot of good football teams in his eight seasons as head coach at Northside in Warner Robins.
After all, his Eagles have won four region titles and a state championship and reached the semifinals three other times during his tenure.
But Kinsler saw more than his fair share of quality teams this season. Ten of Northside’s 12 opponents reached the playoffs, including four that made it to the semifinals or beyond. Those four teams handed Northside its losses during an 8-4 season.
Two of those teams were undefeated Class AAAAA finalist Warner Robins and Class AAAAAA semifinalist Tucker. Warner Robins beat the Eagles 28-17 in the opener, and Tucker eliminated Northside from the playoffs with a 28-7 victory in the second round.
In between those losses came Region 1-AAAAAA games against Coffee and Lee County, who will meet at 8 p.m. Friday in Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the Class AAAAAA championship.
“The first thing is that they’re both very well-coached,” Kinsler said of Lee County and Coffee. “[Lee County coach Dean Fabrizio] has been it for a long time. He’s got a good staff, so their kids are well-coached and coached up. [Coach Robby] Pruitt has a really good staff down there at Coffee and has done a good job with those kids. I know that they’ve got a lot of kids back that played a lot last year. Both of them have got a lot of kids that have big-time experience in big games. But going beyond that, the coaches and the experience, both just have a lot of quality players.
“You know, when you play in a region like ours, it kinda prepares you for what you see in the state playoffs. Basically, you play a four-game region schedule and it’s like a four-team playoff. I think that’s helped them a lot, and just the competition they play.”
Northside lost to Lee County 16-13 in overtime on Oct. 13. Jase Orndorff threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Josh Asbury for the game-winning points after Northside had kicked a field goal on its overtime possession. One week later, the Eagles lost to Coffee 14-12 when Coffee stopped a two-point conversion attempt with 1:08 remaining.
Lee County had its lowest-scoring game of the season against Northside, and the only time Coffee scored less than it did against the Eagles was its 23-7 loss to Lee County in the regular-season finale.
“Fortunately for us, we were pretty good on defense this year,” Kinsler said. “I thought we had a pretty good plan for them. I think on defense, all the teams in this region matched up pretty well. As far as anything we did on defense against them, we just had some guys that had a really good year. … Both games were defensive contests. That’s just sort of our mantra. Thankfully we were strong on defense this year. I think we were just fortunate in both of those ballgames, because as you’ve seen in the playoffs both Lee County and Coffee have powerful offenses. They have great schemes, and their kids execute it pretty well.”
Whichever team wins Friday night’s game will become the third Region 1 team in four seasons to win the champion in the state’s second-largest classification. Northside took the title in 2014, and Valdosta won last year.
“Whenever we got ready for games in our region, I told people, ‘You better get ready for a 6-3 or a 3-0 ballgame,’” Kinsler said. “Given the fact that they know each other so well and have played each other so much, I think that’s probably going to lend to a more low-scoring game. But to be honest with you, I never would’ve thought that Lee would’ve given up as many points as they did last week [a 42-38 victory over Glynn Academy]. They’ve got a really good defense. I know they played each other a few weeks ago for what was basically the region championship game. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was a 7-6 game, just because they know each other so well. But I think the game’s gonna be close whether it’s 7-6 or 28-27. I just think it’s going to be that kind of game.”