Warner Robins – Not even three minutes had elapsed, and three big plays led to a pair of touchdowns, and it looked like offenses were in for a fun night.
They weren’t, but eventually, things were fun for Warner Robins.
The Demons went up by two touchdowns midway through the third quarter and kept Carver from threatening en route to a 31-7 win Friday night in a Class 5A semifinal at McConnell-Talbert Stadium.
Warner Robins improved to 14-0 with the win while Carver’s season ended at 12-2. The Demons advance to play Rome at 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and will go for their first state title since 2004.
His team was off a dazzling performance in last week’s 63-24 romp over Carrollton, so Warner Robins head coach Mike Chastain was happy to worry later where the Demons weren’t overly sharp.
“We’re playing in the championship game,” he said. “And we beat a great team in the semifinals. That’s what matters.”
They don’t have a big road trip, and Carver was hoping for simply a drive a few minutes away.
“We had goals of playing down the street in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium,” Carver head coach Darren Myles said. “But the better team won today.”
The Demons led 14-7 at halftime in an even game where neither offense could sustain much of anything.
“The the things that stopped us in the first half was we hurt ourselves a little bit, made some mistakes,” Chastain said. “But we won the first half. We talked about at halftime that we gotta go out and win this half and make the half a memorable half.”
The sluggishness continued on the first two drives of the third quarter, Warner Robins’ defense getting the stop from Dillon Braunstein on a fourth and 1. The Demons marched 53 plays – after losing five on first down – on five plays with Dylan Fromm dumping a simple pass to the right to Julius Cobbs, who scored easily for an 8-yard touchdown at the 7:34 mark of the third quarter.
Carver mounted a drive, quarterback Octavious Battle keeping twice to convert a pair of third downs. But he was picked off by C.J. Harris at the Demons’ 12, and Harris returned it to the 33. Warner Robins was stopped on fourth down just past midfield and punted, putting the Panthers on their 3.
The Panthers were still alive, but Battle’s pass deep was nowhere near a teammate, and it was snagged by Ke’Shawn Duvall and brought back 53 yards for a touchdown and the nail in Carver’s season coffin. Mashburn’s kick made it 28-7 with 9:10 left in the game.
Up to that point, Carver had 73 yards in the second half and was helped by a couple penalties that it did nothing with. The Demons weren’t exceptionally sharp on offense, but were fairly efficient and took advantage of a shanked punt to eat some time and get a 34-yard field goal from Mashburn to add some icing with 3:49 left.
The action was there early.
Warner Robins recovered a sky kick on the opening kickoff. The Demons got a 24-yard pass from Dylan Fromm to Tyler Fromm on third and 15, then Dylan Fromm got a nice catch from Jaeven West for 33-yard touchdown on their first possession.
Carver needed only three plays to respond after another short kickoff, Quindarious Monday – an Auburn commit - making a nice reaching catch on a slant and pulling away for a 39-yard touchdown, and it was tied at 7 with 9:31 left in the first.
“Then it fell apart,” Myles said. “A lot of credit to Warner Robins. They had a good game plan. We got outplayed.”
That took awhile to happen.
Warner Robins sophomore Javonte Talent was hurt on a punt and taken off on a stretcher, and the Demons then marched 89 yards in 12 plays, converting on two third downs and scoring on third and goal, Dylan Fromm scrambling and powering in from the 3. Mashburn’s kick made it 14-7 with 12.9 seconds left in the first quarter.
Carver got a 48-yard pass play a few moments later, but soon punted. Warner Robins then got 19 on its first play, and punted.
Carver blew a great chance to tie it after getting a first on a fake punt inside their 15 after Jo’Quavious Marks ripped off a 62-yard run on second and 18 only for Battle to throw it right into the arms of Tyler Fromm in the end zone. He got it out to the 36 with 24 seconds left, but the Demons – who wasted no seconds on any possession – couldn’t do anything.
Marks had 93 yards and Warner Robins’ Jarius Burnette 94 at halftime, while Fromm had completed 12 of 23 for 134 yards and Battle 5 of 8 for 129.
Carver ended up with a respectable 17 first downs, and had only two second-half three-and-outs, but could never get anything going against a Warner Robins defense that kept the pressure on Battle.
“They did a good job on stunts,” Myles said. “We repped it, but they did a good job beating the man on man blocking that we employed. Or tried to employ.”
Battle had minus 18 yards rushing at halftime, and was sacked on Carver’s final two plays, losing 20 yards. Battle caught three passes for 58 yards.
“They said, ‘We’re not gonna let (Monday) beat us,’” Myles said. “And they stopped the run. ‘(Marks) and (Monday) are not gonna beat us.”
And they didn’t. Marks finished with 143 yards on 24 carries.
“We’ve got guys that can definitely get after the passer,” Chastain said. “Our defensive coaches, they put a phenomenal plan together. Just mix it up and help out a little bit over the top when we could, and then kinda stay in the box and stop the run. You’ve gotta be balanced against them.
“Our kids played hard. They played hard the whole game, and that’s exciting.”