We’ve told you for the past four weeks all you need to know about the four teams still alive in the Class AAA high school football playoffs. You know that Greater Atlanta Chrisitan features Davis Mills, the top recruit in the state; that GAC’s opponent, Peach County, has Kearis Jackson and Antonio Gilbert and hasn’t lost since the first game of the season; that Cedar Grove has more next-level recruits than you can count on one hand; that unbeaten Crisp County, Cedar Grove’s opponent, has had the most magical season in school history.
But those of us who live and work in Middle Georgia know that the biggest factor in Friday’s semifinals might be that two metro Atlanta schools are traveling deep into the state and walking into two proud farming communities with the most loyal Friday night fan bases you can find anywhere.
Hello from Venus.
“It is South Georgia, and the crowds get loud and rowdy,” said Crisp County coach Shelton Felton. “It is a great atmosphere. These kids hear their parents and friends hollering and making noise and yelling ‘OFFENSE and DEFENSE,’ and it is just great being home. The crowds have gotten larger, standing-room only. They are more into the game. You hear the cowbells, the rocks in the jugs. It gets rowdy. When we play, the whole town shuts down to come and see the Cougars play. ”
Things will not be different in Fort Valley. Westminster coach Gerry Romberg spoke about the “Friday Night Lights” atmosphere that surrounds the Peach program last week before his team lost to the Trojans in the state quarterfinals. Romberg later said he was amazed at the size of the Peach County crowd that showed up for the game.
And Peach was playing AT Westminster.
How loyal is the Peach fan base? Meet Fort Valley native Tim Wilson, who will be in attendance for his 500th consecutive game Friday, when GAC comes calling. That’s not a typo. It’s five-hundred games, spanning 42 years and totaling 80 playoff games.
For Wilson, it all started on Sept. 5, 1975, when he walked into Anderson Field for the first time as a 12-year-old to watch the Trojans defeat Carver-Columbus 43-0. Since then, he has seen the Trojans win 340 games, lose 159 games, win three state titles and 15 region titles.
During that time, the Trojans put together their best winning streak (28 games) from Aug, 28, 2009 to Nov. 26, 2010 and their worst stretch of games (10 losses) from Nov. 15, 1985 to Nov. 7, 1986, all under Wilson’s watchful eye.
Trojan football history? Wilson has a mind like a steel trap. He remembers the date, score, players and even big plays in games that are easily 20-plus years old. He is a walking historian for the Trojans. You can hear the emotion and excitement in his voice when he realizes that a quick phone call will be focused solely on Peach County football. He embodies everything that is football in Middle Georgia. In this neck of the woods, he’s Everyman.
Q. How long have you been following the Trojans?
A. I have been following them for 42 years and this Friday will be game 500. I’ll be glad to talk to you, but if I cut out don’t worry. I am in a rural area. These cell towers might not hit the bottoms of the valleys.
Q. How did it all start? 42 years? 500 games? 80 playoff games?
A: I went to Peach County and graduated in 1981, and it has been kind of amazing. It started when I was 12 years old in 1975. I remember thinking it was something to see a whole entire football season without missing a game. From there, I don’t know how to fully explain how it happened. Everything just worked out. I do love Peach County High School, and I love the Peach County Trojans.
Q: Is there a most memorable game out of those 500?
A: The best game that I think I ever witnessed, you know, for the pure football of it, was in 1992 when we played Marist in the semifinals and we beat them 34-28. They were a smash-mouth football team and we were a quick-strike football team. The game ended with them at the 6-inch line, and time ran out because they had called all of their timeouts. That would be the best game I ever watched, pure football. I guess another memorable one would be when we won our first state title in 2005, when we beat Dougherty 35-14 and the thrill of getting the first state title. And in 2009 we beat Gainesville 13-12 and we had a fellow named Luke Crowell, who knocked the ball down on the extra-point try to beat them 13-12, and it was the first and only undefeated season for the Trojans. So that would be memorable also.
Q: What do the Peach County Trojans mean for the city of Fort Valley and Peach County in general?
A: I would say the Peach County football team is really what brings the whole entire county together. They unite us. Before the season we had a tragedy where we lost one of our players (in a car wreck), and another is paralyzed. It was terrible. But to see the community rally around that team and how Chad Campbell handled that situation … amazing. Chad is more that just a football coach. We saw him as a leader to help bring this community together. There is nothing like Trojan football in Peach County, I can tell you that. It is just a great privilege to follow a program such as ours.
Q: What does the home-field advantage mean Friday against GAC?
A: I think it matters, to a degree. For one thing, the team doesn’t have to travel. However, our fan base travels well. We travel extremely well. Peach County has a great many people who contribute a lot to the program. Long-term supporters of Peach County are there, and the people you can count on are there. When I went to Westminster last Friday, we had people standing in line for hours before the game. Of course I was first, to make sure that place had a good seat. And to be as vocal as we were, and you see the sea of black and gold, it is just tremendous.
Q: If you could stop time and watch one Peach County team, forever, which would it be?
A: I will be honest with you, this team we have now would rank right up there. I also think the 2005 team that won the state would be there. We lost the first three games that season. The second game we played over in Montgomery, Ala., and we really looked horrible. But the third game we played at Houston County and got beat 33-20, but there was just something in that second half that I saw. That team really developed into a team that second half. When you are 0-3 at Peach County, it is not very popular. But I told people that we were fixing to win out and win the state. People didn’t like what I was commenting on; they didn’t really agree with me. But after it happened people still talk about it. They thought I was off my rocker. But when we got to the 13th game people thought I might be right, and I was. That team had grit and heart and was fun to watch.