When you examine the 2008 Thomson High football schedule a certain question will pop into your mind. Besides the tougher region schedule brought about by realignment, why throw down the gauntlet of a bear like non-region schedule to open the season?
The GHSA realigned Augusta area schools into either a 10-team Region 3-AAAA or an 11-school region 3-AA. This left Thomson, Burke County and Washington County in a seven-school Region 3-AAA meaning they had to find four nonregion opponents to fill out a schedule. With the AAAA and AA regions electing to play full region schedules that meant that Coach Luther Welsh had to literally search from Rabun Gap to Tybee Light to find those four opponents. Obviously only schools with strong traditions would be willing to play Thomson.
Originally, defending Class AA State champion Buford, who likely was also having trouble finding games, agreed to open the season in The Brickyard on Aug. 29. Buford is a city school system located in Gwinnett County. Lo and behold, Buford bailed out of the opener to play a school from Texas. That left only Oct. 17 as a mutual date for Thomson and Buford to play. I'll write about that scenario in a couple of weeks.
Now the Bulldogs will open their season on Sept. 5 on the road against archrival Washington-Wilkes. These schools have often opened the season against each other, but this year, the Tigers will have the benefit of having a game under their belt. They play host to Banks County on Thursday, Aug. 28. Blair Armstrong, who led Peachtree Ridge High School from Gwinnett County to a Class AAAAA state co-championship in 2006, coaches Class AA Banks County.
Washington-Wilkes Coach Russell Morgan once told me that if he could get their kids to play as hard against everyone as they do Thomson and Lincoln County they would win a lot more games. Therein lies the secret of the Thomson vs. Washington-Wilkes grudge match. The Tigers, with opening night jitters vanquished against a school from north Georgia, will be primed for the neighborhood brawl against the Bulldogs.
In the school's history, the Tigers have an overall record of 448-229-15 and a close as it gets 39-39-5 record against Thomson. Washington-Wilkes has teetered on the fence between classes A and AA for many years. They now fall on the A side where they were state runners-up to Lincoln County in 2005. That also was the last season in which they beat Thomson, 10-0 in The Brickyard. The 2000 Tigers were 14-1 and Class AA runners-up and beat Thomson 27-18.
Coach Morgan has a five-year record of 39-21-1 but is only 1-4 against Thomson. Playing the past two seasons in Class AA, he led the Tigers to a 10-2 record in 2006 before losing to Greater Atlanta Christian in round two of the state playoffs. Last year they went 5-6, losing to Buford 56-6 in the first round of the state playoffs. Yes, the same Buford that Thomson will host in October. Again, more about that game in two weeks.
The past two seasons have seen Thomson hammer Washington-Wilkes by scores of 34-6 and 40-16. In those games Thomson forced a few turnovers, or the Tigers had fumblitis, or a little of both. I sense that the Tiger coaching staff feels like they will have a pretty good football team this year if they minimize mistakes.
The Thomson and Washington-Wilkes teams, coaches and communities are very familiar with each other. This familiarity will be enhanced for the Tigers with the addition of former Thomson Middle School coach Nakia Brinson to their staff. Brinson knows very well the Thomson schemes and personnel. I'm sure the Tigers will heavily rely on his insight in preparing for this game.
History shows that these schools both play hard-nosed football and the winner usually goes on to have a very successful season. While doing research from Thomsonfootball.com and the GHSFHA website, I was reminded that Thomson and Washington-Wilkes did not play in 1998 and 1999. For some oddball reason, former coach Butch Jacobs scheduled Stone Mountain instead. Ironically, when the Bulldogs and Tigers meet, it is always like trying to move Stone Mountain.
Only 50 more days until the two blocks of granite collide!