In the furor over an uncharacteristic 5-5 season for the Thomson Bulldogs, the fact they qualified for the state playoffs with a victory over West Laurens three weeks ago was pretty much overlooked. In fact, the Bulldogs were actually playing for a possible shot at a region championship against Burke County two weeks ago. And we thought all was lost for our favorite high school team.
Thomson travels to Butts County tomorrow night to open the state playoffs against the Jackson High School Red Devils. Jackson will join Statesboro, Washington County, Buford and Baldwin to become the fifth undefeated team that Thomson has faced this season on the night that they played.
We knew this was coming when the 2008 schedule was released. Gone were the patsies from Richmond and Columbia counties. Many said they were eager to see Thomson play tougher competition but most of those folks didn't care for the results once the games started. In fact Washington-Wilkes, Hart County and Burke County join the aforementioned four schools in the state playoffs for a total of seven Thomson opponents with a chance to become state champions. This schedule was indeed murderer's row.
As Thomson enters the playoffs against Jackson perhaps reverse psychology will be in effect as compared to the Bulldogs' last few playoff appearances. Thomson enters the Jackson contest as a number four seed with Jackson being the champion of Region 4-AAA. The Bulldogs schedule compiled a mark of 66 wins and 34 losses. By contrast, Jackson's opponents were the reverse of that, 35-65 on the season.
Thomson played seven opponents with winning records, including 10-0 Buford and Baldwin. Jackson played only three teams with winning marks. Mary Persons (7-3), Eagles Landing (6-4) and Woodward Academy (7-3) are those teams. Jackson also played schools early in the season that finished with records of 0-10, two 2-8 teams and two squads at 1-9.
Will the tough competition that Thomson played this year pay dividends against a team like Jackson? I feel that if the players go into the game with an attitude of confidence and the desire to win, having already been through the meat grinder can only help. Of course, the team will still need to execute and avoid mistakes. They also cannot look at Jackson's schedule and take winning for granted. The Bulldogs have been beaten in the past playing that game and should know that will not work.
Jackson's veteran coach, Mike Parris, has 17 seasons in Georgia as a head coach. He spent four seasons at Forest Park from 1992-1995 before moving to Jackson. Parris' claim to fame is that he was Hines Ward's high school coach at Forest Park. Ward of course played for Georgia and is the current All-Pro receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers and was MVP of the 2007 Super Bowl. Parris' overall record is 131-60. His best season was a 12-2 mark in 2000.
The Red Devils were in Class AA before moving to AAA in 2006. Their record in their first year in AAA was 10-2 before falling to 3-7 last season. It is safe to say that Coach Parris will put a well-schooled team on the field against Thomson. This is their first ever 10-0 team so they expect to make a good playoff run.
Some of you old timers may remember a native of Jackson that coached football at Thomson High in 1972 and helped develop young athletes John Barnett and Eddie Lee Ivery. Tommy Carmichael was an assistant to Coach Fred Bowers for a year before returning to Jackson. He was the Red Devils' head coach from 1976-1979. Carmichael played for coaches Bobby Dodd and Bud Carson in 1965, 1966 and 1967 at Georgia Tech.
Tommy and his wife, who once served as Butts County's interim school superintendent, still live in Jackson. I gave him a call and he is looking forward to the matchup with Thomson. He strongly recommends buying your supper at the Red Devil Café at the stadium. He says they offer great hamburger and chicken finger plates for just $5. Sounds good to me.