For a half, it was the kind of game many thought it would be - a defensive struggle between the Thomson High Bulldogs and Washington County Golden Hawks last Friday night in The Brickyard.
Thomson and Washington County traded punts until the Golden Hawks' Reheem Marshall returned a kick 67 yards to set up the only score of the first half. And WaCo (6-0) never looked back, blanking Thomson (4-2) 20-0 in the Region 3-AAA match-up.
Now, it doesn't get any easier for the Bulldogs.
This Friday night, the Bulldogs celebrate their annual homecoming football game at 7:30 p.m. They will entertain Class AA powerhouse Buford, who are ranked nationally by USA Today.
"We'll have our work cut out for us when we take on Buford, because they are a pretty good football team," remarked Thomson Head Coach Luther Welsh earlier this week. "We're going to have to play much better against them than we did against Washington County, if we're going to win. We made several mistakes that cost us in the game against Washington County. And we could never get anything going, offensively. We've just got to keep working harder and getting better."
Coach Welsh said the game boiled down to his team's lack of offense. The Bulldogs could only muster a total of 75 yards during the game and produced just three first downs on their own.
"We never got anything going, offensively," lamented Coach Welsh. "The defense played the best they could play, but they wore out. If our offensive people had that kind of stuff in them - to be honest with you, I'm just plain disappointed."
The Golden Hawks came into the game against Thomson having yielded only 12 points to opponents this season.
"We knew they were going to prove a tough challenge for us," added Coach Welsh, whose Bulldogs now drop to 2-1 in Region 3-AAA standings. "They are as tough as they looked on film."
In the game against Washington County, the Bulldogs had managed to keep the Golden Hawks out of the end zone until the big runback of a long, high punt off the foot of Thomson's Phillip Anderson. Marshall had to backpedal to make the catch before breaking free on a corner route where he romped down the Washington County sideline before being tackled from behind, ironically, by Anderson at the Thomson 2. From there, Keith Swint scored the Golden Hawks' first touchdown of the night.
A costly mistake enabled Washington County to go up 14-0 early in the third quarter, as they recovered a Thomson fumble on the first play following the second half kickoff. They then drove 50 yards for the score. The touchdown came on a quarterback draw by Markeist Warthen.
Swint's running abilities spelled problems for the Bulldogs the entire second half, as he carried the ball 17 times for 152 yards during the last two quarters of the game.
Washington County Head Coach Joel Ingram praised Thomson's defensive efforts, saying, "They defended us so well. That (punt return) totally changed the whole scope of the game."
Thomson's James Bonner accounted for 51 yards of his team's rushing, while senior quarterback Brandon Turman completed 5-of-8 passes for 40 yards.
The Augusta Chronicle's Scott Michaux contributed to this article.