When Johnson High running back Garry Daies first arrived in class Monday morning, a couple of days removed from the Knights’ 38-0 win on the road at Oglethorpe County, he was greeted with cheers and applause. Quarterback Sam Corbett had a similar reception, as several of his classmates patted him on the back, both literally and proverbially.
“Everyone was just like ‘Hey! Good job!’” Corbett said. “That was really cool.”
During first period, Johnson principal Stan Lewis came over the PA system, specifically to congratulate the team.
The school-wide celebration that put Johnson at 1-0 to start the season may seem over the top without context, but the result means a lot more for Johnson than a typical high school football victory would.
Prior to Friday, the Knights had gone nearly three years since their last win, a 31-7 decision against Riverside Military on Sept. 25, 2015. Since then, four Star Wars movies have been released, and the Cleveland Browns have won two football games.
Corbett said he and the rest of the team have tried to stay positive through the streak of losses, although it was at times challenging.
“For two years, every time we went and shook hands, we were the defeated side,” he said.
On Friday, that was certainly not the case.
Corbett rushed for three touchdowns, Daies ran for two, and the defense wrapped up a shutout. When the clock finally hit zero, the Knights congregated at the 50-yard line to celebrate. For many on the team, it was a first ever taste of victory at the high school level.
Daies, a senior, said the entire experience was so happy, it was even “kind of heartbreaking.”
“Everybody was going crazy, jumping, screaming, yelling,” he said. “We were all just running around, smiling. Everybody was happy.”
When asked the following week how he felt preparing after a win rather than after a loss, Johnson head coach Jason Roquemore couldn’t help but laugh.
“From a locker room standpoint, it’s a little extra hitch in your giddy up,” he said. “A little extra pep in your step … It was a great night to be a Knight.”
But now that the celebration is over, Roquemore said he and his team have their sights set on the future. On Friday, the Knights will take on rival West Hall for the Battle of Oakwood, and for the first time in a long time, Johnson has some hope.
Over the past five contests between the teams, West Hall has dominated the yearly matchup, winning each game by an average of 36 points and shutting the Knights out twice. But this year, Roquemore said he thinks things will be different.
Due to the proximity between the schools, Roquemore said he doesn’t have to explain to his players that the West Hall matchup is a little more important than a usual non-region game.
“It’s one of those deals that a lot of that, we really don’t even have to speak of,” he said.
And his players have bought in.
Corbett went as far as to say the coming game has gotten the team and the entire Johnson High School community “the most excited we’ve been going into a game all four years we’ve been here.”
“Everyone knows West Hall is the biggest game of the year,” Corbett said. “I think the enthusiasm just carries over from that confidence we built.”
Daies was largely in agreement.
As the team enters its rivalry matchup, undefeated after opening week for the first time since 2015, Daies said he remembered every loss the team has been through in the last two seasons.
“And they weren’t little losses either,” he said. “They were big losses.”
Daies said emotions around the team coming into this week have ranged from excitement to fear. But for the senior class members trying to avoid losing all four West Hall matchups in their high school careers, there’s a consistently held feeling: determination.
“We’ve got one more chance to bring home a W against a team that we’ve been losing to for too many years,” he said. “So it’s pretty big.”