Thomson players and coaches weren't making excuses. The Bulldogs fell to the fourth-seeded Westover Patriots in the opening round of the state playoffs 26-14 on Friday night.
Aall losses are painful, but Thomson Coach Luther Welsh wasn't sure why this one hurt quite so much.
Thomson's LaBrandon Hudson breaks through the middle in the Bulldogs' 26-14 loss.
Photo by Jason B. Smith
"As of today, it's the worst loss I ever had in my career," he said Monday morning. "I've never had this kind of hurt before. I've lost playoff games, but none that affected me like this one."
Defensive Coordinator John Barnett had similar feelings toward the season-ending defeat.
"There's nothing quite so empty as the feeling I have the first day I know there is no practice after school because we're out of the playoffs," he said.
The game looked like a mismatch in theory: a region champion against a team that barely made the playoffs, but Westover proved to be a tougher opponent than its 4-6 record let on. That was no surprise to Coach Welsh.
Turnovers -- three fumbles and two interceptions -- played a major role in the loss, but Thomson's coaching staff didn't place all the blame on the few mishaps.
"It's our job to stop the other team's offense regardless of the situation and we did a poor job of playing assignment-oriented, disciplined football in the last 2 1/2 quarters against Westover," Coach Barnett said. "Turnovers and bad field position are no excuse as far as I'm concerned. If we do what we're coached to do, we stop Westover, and we didn't."
Thomson started the game marching on its first drive. The Bulldogs took an 11-play, 65-yard drive into the end zone with Fullback Demarcus Wilson's 3-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter.
Then both defenses tightened up, but the Bulldogs just couldn't sustain it.
Thomson's Kelcey Neal grabs Westover quarterback Jermelle Benton.
Westover Running Back Tony Reid rambled 24 yards on his way to the tying score with 2:12 remaining before halftime. Thomson Quarterback Dan Ivey attempted a pass on the ensuing drive only to be picked off by Aairon Savage with 1:18 left.
Reid and Quarterback Jermelle Benton pushed the ball to the Thomson 19 on a hurried offense. Then Benton's 19-yard touchdown pass to Reid gave the Patriots a 14-7 lead at the break.
"We just tried to keep them off balance with a lot of different sets and things like that," Westover Coach Jeff Caldwell said. "They do a lot of good things, and we were just fortunate. ...We've got some kids that have worked their fannies off. Nobody gave up on each other."
The one-two punch of Benton and Reid put Westover up 20-7 with the Patriots opening possession of the second half. Thomson answered late in the third quarter with sophomore LaBrandon Hudson's back to back runs of 41 and 10 yards followed by a Wilson 1-yard touchdown run. The score remained 20-14 going into the fourth quarter.
The Patriots took over on the Thomson 17 after a Bulldog fumble and drove toward a 1-yard Tony Reid touchdown run with 1:45 remaining in the game. The score put Westover up 26-14 and ended up being the knockout punch.
The loss ends a year of Thomson football marred by injuries. And Friday night was no exception. Clifton Belton and Miguel Johnson were both re-injured against the Patriots knocking the Bulldogs' game plan off axis.
Already looking ahead to next season, Coach Welsh lamented the loss of his senior class. But with a strong batch of underclassmen coming up to key positions on the varsity squad, he said the future of Thomson football should be in good hands.
"We lose some good football players, and they're going to be hard to replace, especially offensive line and our defensive linemen," Coach Welsh said. "But we also have some good people coming back in the secondary. ...The backs will be alright. They're young, but they've got some talent."