JACKSON, Ga. - No longer can anyone say that the Thomson High Bulldogs aren't able to get past the first-round of the state football playoffs.
They did this year. And as a result, Thomson now 6-5 overall, finds themselves going to the second-round to face a 9-2 LaGrange team this Saturday night. The past two years had not been good for the Bulldogs when playing in the first-round with back-to-back losses to Westover. That all changed last Saturday night when Thomson defeated the Jackson High Red Devils 28-14.
It was one of the most memorable emotional games by a Thomson team in several years and particularly for legendary Head Coach Luther Welsh.
"We rose to the occasion," said Coach Welsh, as tears streamed down the sides of his face. "We wanted to show some people that we're really better than a fourth-seeded team."
Thomson wasn't given much of a chance of defeating the previously undefeated Red Devils. But the Bulldogs apparently weren't buying into any of that stuff.
Instead, they took the opening kickoff and marched 77 yards to pay dirt. The long sustained drive - one of their best offensive marches all season - was capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by senior running back James Bonner.
Before the game finished, Thomson managed to score three more touchdowns - the fourth one sealing the fate of their opponents.
"It's great that this first-round jinx is finally off of us," said Thomson first-year Offensive Coordinator Bobby Thomas.
The Bulldogs had bowed out of post-season play in the first-round of the playoffs in 2004, 2006 and 2007, according to records posted at www.ThomsonBulldogs.com.
"Personally, it had been embarrassing that we had not won a playoff game since 2005," said veteran Thomson Defensive Coordinator John Barnett, who along with Assistant Coach Eddie Lee Ivery, was doused by ice water buckets by players after their upset victory.
Coach Barnett praised the play of his entire defensive unit, saying, "They did a heck of a job." He also paid senior linebacker Lonnie Harris individual praise, saying, "He was an outstanding playmaker. Lonnie's been my personal project this season."
Harris, one of the team leaders and star players for the Bulldogs all season, remarked after the game that his teammates simply played "team ball" against Jackson. "Everybody stepped up."
Offensively for Thomson, it was senior quarterback Brandon Turman turning on the gusto, rambling for 130-yards on 23 carries and scoring a pair of touchdowns.
In the game against Jackson, Harris recorded a number of tackles, recovered a key fumble and sacked Jackson junior quarterback Matt Cawthon twice for sizable losses in the fourth quarter.
After Bonner scored with 5:47 to play in the first quarter, Jay Bieltz kicked the extra point to give Thomson a 7-0 lead. Following Bieltz's ensuing kickoff, the Red Devils' drive started ontheir own 31. They drove for their first touchdown of the game, tying the score at 7-7. It came on a 10-yard pass from Cawthon to wide receiver Romez Clark.
The score was aided by a 15-yard personal foul face mask call against the Bulldogs on the Red Devils second offensive play.
Dontavious "Juicy" Brown later was hit hard and coughed up the football with Dylan Smith recovering it for Jackson at the Red Devils' 49. Jackson had the ball only two plays before they turned it back over to Thomson, as sophomore defensive back Jacoby Crawford picked off a Cawthon pass to end the first quarter.
Behind the strong running of Turman, the Bulldogs drove all the way from their 39 for another score to make it a 14-7 game. Turman capped the drive on a 1-yard quarterback sneak. Bieltz added the extra point.
Thomson's defensive unit, led by Harris, Dexter Sneed, Darius Eubanks, Tresvatis "Pop" Chambliss and others, then forced the Red Devils to punt. Thomson mounted another scoring threat, but came up short on a fourth down and three gamble at the Red Devils' 33 with 1:05 left in the first half.
Jackson attempted to strike for another score that would have tied the game before halftime, but once again, the Bulldogs rose to the occasion by denying Jackson a first down on a fourth down and four play with just 24 seconds left.
After receiving the second half kickoff from Bieltz, the Red Devils went to work, offensively. Eubanks later hit junior running back Quint McKibben hard, causing the ball to pop out of his hands with Harris falling on it for the Bulldogs.
From the Jackson 48, Thomson, however was able to move the ball downfield and had to rely on the services of sophomore punter to kick the ball away. Anderson's punt was a dandy - hitting near the two before bouncing backwards to the five. The Red Devils could do nothing backed up that deep in their own territory - thus were forced to punt from their own end zone.
With 2:29 remaining in the third quarter, Turman, along with James Bonner and Jeremy McGahee, led another scoring drive. Just two plays into the fourth quarter, McGahee got the honor of scoring from 10-yards out. Again Bieltz booted the extra point, which gave Thomson a 14-point lead, 21-7.
On Jackson's next possession, Thomson's Darius Eubanks leaped high in the air to make an interception of a pass with 9:52 to play in the game. But the Bulldogs weren't able to move the ball and were forced to punt.
Just after driving into Thomson territory, the Red Devils were intercepted again. Chambliss got the pick with 6:55 left and returned the ball to the Jackson 45. From there, Thomson rolled again, offensively. Turman ran for a 9-yard touchdown with 3:30 to play in the game that put the nail in the coffin for the Red Devils. With just 11 seconds left, Jackson scored their final touchdown of the game.