VARNELL, Ga. - Before he could allow himself to really enjoy the most memorable football game in the rather short history of Coahulla Creek High School, head coach Danny Wilson found himself pondering the bigger picture.
The Colts stunned county kingpin Northwest Whitfield 31-25 in three overtimes last Friday, a victory that has no match in program history - and it's not even close.
The Bruins were ranked in the top 10 in GHSA Class AAAA, and Georgia High School Football Daily listed them as 28-point favorites over the Class AAA Colts. In three previous meetings, Coahulla Creek had been outscored a combined 82-19, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association website.
The Creek, as many call the Whitfield County school that opened in 2011 and began varsity football the following year, entered the 2021 season with an all-time record of 11-79. The best seasons were five 2-8 campaigns, including last year, Wilson's first in charge of the Colts. There have been three 0-10 seasons, and one of those (2014) is considered perhaps the worst northwest Georgia team in recent history after being outscored 434 to 24.
So you might forgive folks in Varnell this week if there's a new sense of pride and, yes, excitement surrounding the program. As senior defensive back Mason Turner said: "It was huge for us. We've obviously never beaten them, and we weren't supposed to win. It was a big momentum win for us, and it's great for our fans. It boosts your confidence beating a team like that, especially since we're always talked down to around here."
Wilson is well aware of the program's history, which is why he spent the next two days conversing with his veteran staff about the ramifications of finally achieving a signature win. Then, on cue, his cellphone provided some help.
"It was funny because I was thinking about how to let them celebrate, but at the same time get them back to earth," Wilson said. "Then, (late UCLA men's basketball coach) John Wooden popped up on my timeline with one of my favorite sayings: 'It's tough to respond to failure, but it's tougher to respond to success.'
"That's so true. Throughout my career, that's been the toughest thing for me as a coach. Building stuff and learning to win is tough, but once you have that success it's much tougher. Having success is good, but you tend to forget how you got there. Fortunately I have a lot of good dudes on my staff that understand that, five or six guys who have been head coaches."
The game itself was, even in Wilson's view, sloppy but very exciting. Muddy conditions at Northwest Whitfield limited both offenses, and the Colts, whose scheme is geared around 200-pound running backs Tyler Locklear and Will Douglas, found themselves down six late in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Kace Kinnamon, one of 14 returning starters, drove the team downfield before breaking off what appeared to be the tying touchdown with less than a minute remaining in regulation time. A penalty, however, negated the play. Undaunted, Kinnamon hit Justin Baker for 25 yards; one play later, the quarterback bulled his way 10 yards into the end zone with three seconds on the clock.
Ballgame, right? The Bruins, after three timeouts, broke through the line and blocked the extra-point kick to send the game into overtime, where both teams scored in the first two extra periods. Locklear gave the Colts a six-point lead with a 15-yard touchdown on the first play of the third OT, and when the Bruins were stopped on fourth-and-11, the visiting players, coaches and fans celebrated in the mud.
"When we stopped them on that last play, it was a big relief," Turner said. "We've been waiting for this moment for a while. We knew we could win it even if everybody else didn't. When we scored in the third overtime, I told the guys it was our time to shine and we did."
The week has, by Wilson's account, been crazy at school. Even through increased fear of the COVID-19 delta variant's spread in Whitfield County, last Friday's win gave students something to smile about and maybe was the start of something big at the school.
"It's been different this week, no doubt," said Wilson, whose Colts will attempt to win two games in succession for the first time in program history when they host Southeast Whitfield on Friday night. "The vibe during the game was even different. Our stands were packed. I'm not sure how many believed in us, but there were a lot of hopefuls. After the game a lot of people are on the train and believing in us. People are talking about tailgating and stuff now.
"Monday, all of a sudden, everyone knew we won, including kids who probably didn't even know we played. It's a start and hopefully it gives the kids the confidence that, hey, we can play with people who compete for playoffs every year and maybe even compete for the playoffs ourselves."