With just under 30 minutes left to play before the opening kickoff, Walton’s student section — located at the 35-yard line on the visitor’s side of the Georgia Dome — began chanting as Grayson’s players huddled.
“I’m proud … to be … a Walton Raider! Yes … I’m proud … to be … a Walton Raider!”
Appearing in the first state championship game in team history, Walton — not to mention the community — had much to be proud of, and it was evident on the faces of the red-white-and-blue fans who came to the Dome.
“There’s seven guys, and we’re all painted up and ready to roll,” said R.J. Torres, a 16-year-old Walton student. “It’s nice to get out here and support the team. It feels like a family. We’ve all bonded together these past few weeks after playing all of these ballgames.
“It feels nice to come out here and support these guys who are getting out there and doing their work. I am pumped. I am so pumped. I’m ready to go to see what happens and to cheer on Walton.”
Clark Price, an eighth-grader at Dickerson Middle School — one of the schools that feeds into Walton’s enrollment — was on hand with several of his friends to support the football team. He walked through the Georgia Dome concourse, ringing a blue cowbell to help him cheer the players on.
“It’s very exciting,” said Price, who plays middle linebacker and center for the Raiders’ junior football team. “I can’t wait to be here someday. They were handing (the cowbells) out in the parking lot when I got here, so I hope that it intimidates Grayson and maybe gives Walton an edge.”
The closer it got to start time, the more supporters in the stands — from of both teams — cheered, especially when the captains met at midfield.
As Walton prepared to run out to the field, the back of the cheerleaders’ banner read, “Here we go. Make it 15-0.” The front, which faced the open field, read,” Finishing what we started!”
Walton’s season began Aug. 20, when the Raiders beat Peachtree Ridge at the Georgia Dome as part of the season-opening Corky Kell Classic.
Grayson started the game on offense, but it quickly punted the ball away after Walton’s defense held the Rams without a first down. The result sent the Walton supporters into a frenzy.
But the noise of joy was short-lived as the Raiders turned the ball over on their first possession, leading to a Grayson touchdown drive.
Things soon got worse for Walton, which could not pick up a first down until the second quarter. Grayson scored three touchdowns and kicked a field goal on four of its six first-half possessions and took a 24-0 halftime lead, leaving Walton fans stunned, but still hopeful.
The Raider faithful applauded the start of the second-half kickoff as Walton took initial possession of the ball. With 5 minutes left in the third quarter, the student section chanted, “I believe that we will win!”
The students had faith in a comeback, but that didn’t stop some Walton supporters from leaving at the start of fourth period, with their team still trailing 24-0. Nothing changed by the time the final whistle sounded as Walton fans were left with a disheartening finish to a great season.
“I’m really proud of (Walton) for making it to the state championship,” said Greg Millsaps, whose daughter cheers for the Raiders’ eighth-grade team, “but I’m disappointed in the outcome of the game. They had a great season, and (varsity coach Rocky) Hidalgo did a great job of coaching them this year.
“(A) 14-1 (record) is something to be proud of. They’re the only Cobb team to make it this far in a while, so I’m proud of them.”