Warriors Come Up Short Against South Paulding in Hard-Fought Playoff Loss

Kate Willoughby
Magic Man: Wiley Hartley miraculously escapes multiple Spartan defenders in the backfield and turns upfield for a Warrior first down.

The North Atlanta Warriors traveled out to South Paulding High School to take on the Spartans on Nov. 15 in the first round of the Georgia High School Football Playoffs. It was the Warriors’ first playoff appearance since 1996, a now-distant year, well before any of the current players were even born.

The Warriors, led by their star seniors, were hungry for the first playoff victory in school history. The seniors came a long way since joining the team three years ago, as they started out 1-9 as freshmen players in the football program. “I feel like our record and performance this season really reflects how hard we’ve worked and far we’ve come these last three years,” said senior quarterback Wiley Hartley. “It feels great to see our efforts paying off.”

South Paulding is roughly 30 miles outside of perimeter of Atlanta, making it a fairly long journey for travelling North Atlanta fans. However, this didn’t stop the Warriors student section, and well over 150 students pulled up to the stadium in three “spirit busses” that made the trip to the distant suburbs. The North Atlanta student section at the game, equipped with a plethora of signs, bags of flour, and ski outfits, fled into the stadium with exuberance and excitement as they were ready to cheer for their Warriors until the clock hit zero. “Our student section is absolutely crazy and super fun to be a part of,” said junior Foard Martin. “We are always super energetic and it’s a great place where everyone can come together to be a part of a community.”

At 7:30 p.m., the game finally began with the Warriors receiving the opening kickoff. North Atlanta opened up the game with a long run by Hartley, and the drive was capped off by a 1-yard touchdown by T.K. Mack. The student section erupted with joy and filled the stadium with “Let’s Go Warriors!” and “O-T-P!” chants. The Spartans immediately responded, and both teams went back and forth during the opening quarter. After the high scoring first quarter, the Warriors led 14-13 following a blocked extra point.

The second quarter was not as eventful for the Warriors offense as the first quarter was, as the Warriors were not able to score during the period. However, the defense held the Spartans to one score in the second, making the 20-14 deficit at halftime very manageable for North Atlanta. The third quarter featured the same high scoring action that was seen in the first quarter as both teams scored two touchdowns. This included a 39-yard rushing touchdown by Hartley and another 1-yard touchdown from Mack. Following turnovers by both teams, the Warriors were down 27 to 34 with the ball in the fourth quarter and were driving to tie the game. Unfortunately, after two unsuccessful end zone shots on 3rd and 4th down, North Atlanta turned the ball over on downs, and South Paulding iced the game with another touchdown.

Despite the fact the game didn’t end the way everyone at North Atlanta hoped it would, it doesn’t take away from the amazing season they enjoyed as a team. Mack finished the season with more than 2,000 rushing yards, second best in the state. Hartley also put up stellar numbers in the passing and running game. Most importantly, the team as a full unit gritted out more wins this year than they have in decades. Its 7 and 4 season marked just the third winning season in school history. Although the team is going to lose a marginable amount of talent due to the departing seniors, the returning Warriors will be looking to carry the same winning spirit into next season.