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Sports Talk: THS region has old, new opponents

There are two ways that Thomson's 2008 region football schedule can be analyzed. It can be broken into a pre-Buford and post-Buford segment or one can examine the three schools that we have familiarity with: Washington County, Burke County and Baldwin, as opposed to the relative unknowns, Richmond Hill, Liberty County and West Laurens. Since I have to pick one, I'll do it chronologically. This week let's look at the first three region games and we'll conclude next week by taking a look at the final three.

Region play will begin in The Brickyard on Sept. 26 vs. Richmond Hill. The Wildcats were known as a small school basketball power that started football in 1986 with one game against fellow newcomer Long County, a 28-26 victory. After five games in 1987 they played a full 10-game slate in 1988. They actually won a Region 2-AA championship in 1996, going 9-4 before losing to eventual state champion Washington County 59-7 in the state quarterfinals.

Other than 1996, football fortunes in Richmond Hill have been, well, miserable. That was their last winning season and they have won only 16 games in the eleven seasons since. The population buildup on the coastal end of Bryan County kicked them into Class AAA in 2004. They clearly don't have the football talent, if the desire, to compete. Count this a Thomson win.

On Oct. 3, Thomson will make the long trek to Liberty County. I coached at Liberty County's Bradwell Institute in 1989 and 1990 when Liberty County High School was being built. The community was against a second high school because they knew it would split the students and the support that they received. Due to growth and overcrowding at Bradwell, the school board had no choice. Bradwell Institute had 2,300 students at the time, like a small college to me.

The school started as a junior high and added a grade each year until it became a full-fledged high school. The Panthers first played a varsity schedule in 1993 and did not have a winning season until 2006. Their coach, Kirk Warner, has brought stability to the program. He is entering his seventh year at the helm with an overall record of 23-37. They have been 7-3 both of the last two seasons.

Thomson has twice played Liberty County in region crossover games in the old subdivided 3-AAA. Thomson won them both in squeakers, 13-12 in 2004 and 3-0 in 2005. Liberty County had a season record of 2-8 in both of those seasons which makes it clear to me they were not intimidated by the Bulldogs. Perhaps fans will best remember the 2004 game being switched to Thomson at the last minute due to the threat of a hurricane on the Georgia coast.

One of the old rivals, Washington County, will invade The Brickyard on Oct. 10. Thomson holds a 29-8 series lead over the Golden Hawks. This was a regular matchup until 1989 and then WACO slid back into a smaller classification. The teams collided again in 2005 in a first round state playoff game, won by Thomson 28-21.

Former coach Rick Tomberlin, who put Sandersville on the football map, left for Valdosta and assistant Joel Ingram succeeded him in 2006. Under Coach Ingram, WACO has split with Thomson in two key games. Thomson won 34-10 last year and lost 17-0 in 2006. The 2006 Golden Hawk team went 11-3 before losing to two-time state champion Peach County in the Georgia Dome semi-finals. They had a record of 4-6 last season.

It remains to be seen if Coach Ingram will duplicate Coach Tomberlin's success of three state championships in kaolin country. Before Coach Tomberlin, Washington County was best known as one of the state's greatest underachievers. Coach Tomberlin turned their home field into the House of Pain for opponents. Either way, when Thomson and WACO meet everybody knows that football is important on both sides. The stakes are usually high and the game is typically a physical one. I expect nothing less of the 2008 contest.

Allow me to again credit the Georgia High School Football Historian Association's wonderful website. Without it, the amount of work needed to research the facts on these schools would be insurmountable.

Web posted on Thursday, August 07, 2008

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