Ware County ready for its shot at history against football giant Warner Robins

Unbeaten Gators face powerhouse Demons on Saturday for Class 5A crown

Ware County faces Warner Robins on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in the Class 5A state championship. (Justin Barney, News4JAX)

WAYCROSS, Ga. – Ware County is ready for its shot at history against a team that has already made plenty of it.

The Gators (13-0) are in the state championship game for the fourth time and they’ve got a massive challenge in front of them in the Class 5A showcase Saturday at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta (3:30 p.m.) against Warner Robins (10-4).

The Demons are one of the most accomplished programs in state history and chasing a threepeat.

Last year, Warner Robins put up an almost unbelievable amount of points — 716 in 15 games en route to a 24-point romp over Calhoun in the title game. To show how blistering that 2021 team was, the Demons are back for more, although they’ve been a bit less likely to end a game with a running clock. They enter this year’s championship having scored only 399 points.

“It’s a group that expects to win. They created a heck of a culture there with that football program and long standing and they deserve to be here,” Ware coach Jason Strickland said of Warner Robins. “They’ve played really, really well. It’s a group that you’re going to have to find a way to beat to the very last play. If you don’t, they’re going to hurt your feelings.”

Ware’s defense looks to be the wall that Warner Robins finally can’t scale.

The Gators have been consistent, and they’ve been dominant, no more so than during the state playoffs. Ware has allowed just 27 points in four playoff games, including a 31-7 romp over Dutchtown in the state semifinals.

“This is like a movie or a show for us right now,” said linebacker Trey Hargrove. “It’s been a while since Ware County football team has made it this far in the playoffs and the first time in history that we’ve been undefeated. So, it’s like we’re making history right now.”

Ware is making history. It just wants to end it with an exclamation point this time.

The Gators have been to the title game three other times (1961, 2007 and 2012), but never brought home the crown. They’ve ended a season with one loss before, a second-round playoff exit in 2014 when they finished 11-1, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association.

But Ware has never had a season this good.

Ware can light up the scoreboard, with a 1,000-yard rusher (Daejeaun Dennis), a 2,200-yard passer (Niko Smith) and a wideout with a dozen TDs (Jarvis Hayes) who is just 37 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season. But the defense is what’s locking opponents up. Ware has allowed 90 points all season and been thoroughly tested four quarters just twice this year, a 22-16 win over Bainbridge and a 14-10 thumper against a Savannah Benedictine team that is going for back-to-back state titles in Class 4A on Friday against Cedartown.

Strickland said that there’s nothing like December football practice and the weather for it has been ideal. Come Saturday, when the Ware faithful pack cars and buses and head north to Atlanta, Strickland said it will be a major event for Waycross.

“Communities buy into these football programs. And they take a general interest in the young men that give their time,” Strickland said. “And it’s amazing how well these communities know the names and know what our players look like and recognize them in restaurants. And I think also that creates a level of accountability for all the young men in these programs in South Georgia. It’s a special, special place and we get to we get an opportunity to play a special game this weekend.”

GHSA Class 5A state championship

Ware County (13-0) vs. Warner Robins (10-4)

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

Where: Center Parc Stadium, Atlanta

Road here: Ware County d. Jones County, 55-13; d. Chamblee, 24-7; d. Calhoun, 35-0; d. Dutchtown, 31-7; Warner Robins d. Jenkins, 45-0; d. Northside, 38-7; d. Creekside, 31-28; d. Cartersville, 35-10.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.