The regular season comes to an end tomorrow night for the Thomson Bulldogs in Sandersville against Washington County. The stakes could not be higher. If the Bulldogs win they will enter the state playoffs with the No. 1 seed from Region 3-AAA and the home field advantage. Due to the sub-region alignment, a loss will send them on the road as the region's number three seed.
Anytime a football team is about to face very tough competition, a source of comfort comes in its ability to control the line of scrimmage. Thomson has always fielded a solid defense, and this season the offensive line has done yeoman's work. That is evidenced by the fact that fullback LaBrandon Hudson has more than 1,200 yards rushing, and the team rushing average is an incredible 7.1 yards per attempt.
The offensive line is anchored by Senior center Daniel "Biscuit Eater" Cheely. I taught Daniel in the seventh grade, and we created a running joke about each other's substantial girth in the waist area. I accused Daniel of eating the last biscuit on every plate, every time. I'm proud of Daniel for having developed the habit of lifting more iron than dough, and he has turned into a very reliable football player.
I also taught three of the other offensive lineman in the seventh grade. Junior guard Bob Brunson, junior tackle Ocstabian Bailey and senior tackle Martell Winfrey were all in my class during their middle school days. I did not teach junior guard Austin Smith, but his older brother Matt was a classmate of my son's and helped keep him in his share of mischief.
I know a lot about these guys, and I'm not surprised at how much they are contributing to the team. Sometimes I do have to step back and slap myself into realizing that these kids are four and five years older than when I dealt with them on a daily basis. On some of those days, it would have been hard to picture these guys as Big Dogs on a top-notch football team.
Barring injury, if a team has a good offensive line, that group seldom goes into a slump. This fact will help a coach sleep well at night, especially Thursday nights. Offensive linemen are usually the least athletically talented players on the field. They have to make up for that with determination, hard work and believe it or not, intelligence. Being mentally prepared in knowing where the defense will be and how it reacts is a big advantage.
It takes a special young man to be an offensive lineman. They know that they will get very little recognition as far as getting their name in the paper. In reality, they wouldn't want it any other way. Their acceptance of a lack of notoriety is what helps make them successful. These guys are worried about only one thing, and that's winning their battle in the trenches one play at a time.
The old ultra-successful Washington Redskins used to call their offensive line the Hogs. In Thomson they may be called The Dogs instead, but they still have to "root hog or die" in a football game. The Bulldogs are lucky to have Cheely, Brunson, Bailey, Winfrey and Smith to do the root hogging. So far they have done so to the tune of 2,784 rushing yards in nine games. That effort deserves a lot of biscuit eatin'!
Thomson's first round state playoff opponent will hail from Region 2-AAA. A Bulldog victory over WACO will likely pair them against Troup High School from LaGrange in The Brickyard. Shaw High School of Columbus could also possibly fall to the fourth seed from 2-AAA but that scenario appears unlikely. Hardaway High School of Columbus is still mathematically alive but has already lost to Shaw and Troup. Thomson beat both Shaw and Troup on the way to the 2002 state championship.
Should Thomson drop to a third seed, they would have to travel to Columbus to face Carver High School, who has lost only to LaGrange and plays Hardaway tonight. Besides Thomson and Washington County, Liberty County and South Effingham will also represent Region 3-AAA in the playoffs.