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2 International City high schools on the hunt for a football state championship

Both Warner Robins and Northside High Schools advanced to the state football championship semifinal.

Spend a minute in Warner Robins and you know--this is a football town.

Even decades after the last whistle blows, and they clear the stands for the last time as students, alumni say the experience stays with them.

And they--in turn--have stayed with the city.

With Warner Robins High School and Northside High School both in the state championship semifinals, those legacies are front and center.

You're used to seeing them at city council meetings or in the law enforcement center, drawing up legal documents or organizing city fundraisers. But long before they became civic leaders, they shared something else.

"It was 20 to 25,000 people," said Mayor Randy Toms. "It was completely surrounded. I've never seen anything like it."

"I remember as a child listening to 102 WRBN, listening to the Warner Robins-Northside game," said Warner Robins assistant police chief John Wagner.

Toms and Wagner, along with city attorney Jim Elliott, Warner Robins public information officer Mandy Stella and many others are alums of the International City's most storied rivalry.

Decades later, those colors still don't run.

"Hashtag forks up!" joked Warner Robins High School grad Mandy Stella.

"Not coming out of my lips," responded a chuckling Toms, a former Northside defensive end.

It's that passion that Northside head football coach Kevin Kinsler says makes Warner Robins such a special place to play football.

"It's embedded into our community," he said.

Now that Northside and Warner Robins both have a chance to win it all without facing each other--since they're in different classifications (Warner Robins is 5A, Northside 6A)--their fans are coming together with words of wisdom for their athletes on the field.

"I think they should enjoy the moment," said Toms. "But I think they should also make sure they leave everything they have on that field, and I mean that to both of our teams."

There was advice, too, for what happens after.

"After we win the state championship this year, and they take the pads and helmets off for the last time, hopefully that will be a great memory for them," Wagner said. "[They'll say,] 'I remember playing those games on Friday night, I remember that police officer who escorted us through town."

After all, what's a championship without a city to celebrate with?

Northside will travel to Dacula for their semifinal game.

Warner Robins will take on Rome in a rematch of last year's state championship at McConnell-Talbert Stadium.

Both matchups are scheduled for this weekend.