Injuries plagued the Thomson Bulldogs this year. Even though they weren't at full strength for much of the year, they were able to take home the Region trophy and make it to the second round of the state playoffs.
"If we hadn't got the injuries, we would have been good enough to get to the dome," Thomson Coach Luther Welsh said. "With the caliber running backs we had, I'm almost sure we could have gotten there."
Thomson's Durrell Jackson and a host of Dogs wrap up a Hephzibah player.
Despite the 24-14 exit from the playoffs at the hands of Thomas County Central -- last year's runners up -- the season wasn't a complete wash, according to the Thomson coaching staff. Because of the injuries, the younger players got much experience in the process.
"Overall the season went good, under the circumstances," Coach Welsh said. "With all the adversity with the injuries and all, our kids did a good job because we had to play a lot of second group kids. Sometimes we played the third group of kids."
After beating Screven County, last year's AAA state champions, in the jamboree, Thomson got a wake-up call. The season started off with a 10-0 loss to Hart County in the Brickyard on Aug. 29.
Then things got online for the Bulldogs. They beat their only other non-region opponent Washington-Wilkes 30-15 on Sept. 5 in the Brickyard. The Bulldogs then rattled off eight straight region wins on their way to the Region 3-AAAA championship.
The Bulldogs blew out several teams early in the year. They defeated Cross Creek 41-6 for homecoming on Sept 19. They then beat up on Lakeside for a 56-0 win on Sept. 26. Burke County fell to Thomson 41-0 in the Brickyard on Oct. 3.
Statesboro put up the best fight all year. Thomson defeated the Blue Devils 15-14 on a fourth quarter comeback in the Brickyard on Oct. 17. The last two games of the season were also a struggle due to injuries. Thomson beat Greenbrier 27-21 on Oct. 31 and held off a strong Baldwin County team 10-7 on Nov. 14 to claim the region title outright.
"Our team overcame (the injuries)," Coach Welsh said. "That was a great tribute to them to fight it and overcome it the best they could because a lot of teams wouldn't do it. A lot of teams if they had key people out, they couldn't win...Our kids showed a lot of want and desire and intestinal fortitude to overcome that."
There were several Bulldog standouts this year that the coaches felt played a part in overcoming the adversity. And their stats show it.
Ricky Hill led the team in several categories despite missing time due to multiple injuries. Hill led the team in scoring with 74 points on the year. He also led the team in receiving with six receptions for 107 yards and two receiving touchdowns. Hill was the second leading rusher with 622 yards on 56 carries and 10 touchdowns.
Antwan Johnson was the rushing leader for the Bulldogs. He carried the ball 136 times for 815 yards and eight touchdowns on the season.
On the other side of the ball, Hill added some good numbers as well. He had 31 tackles and 18 assists. He also added three interceptions.
But the defensive leader was Justin Callaway who put up 81 tackles, 64 assists and one sack. Casper Brinkley led the team in sacks with 5.5 on the year. Brinkley also racked up 49 tackles and 33 assists.
"When we were hurt those five ballgames and didn't have a lot of offense, (the defense) is the ones that kept us in the ballgame, and they had a great deal to do with us winning," Coach Welsh said. "They stopped people. We struggled to score a couple of touchdowns, and that's all it took."
Overall Coach Welsh said the season was a good one. But it will be one that will take time recover from.
"I haven't gotten over it," he said. "Right now I think about what it could have been. ...We know why it wasn't any better, but you can't give up. You've got to keep on going. ...When you have your heart and soul in it, it's not going to pass overnight."
PHOTO: Thomson_Hephzibah_2 (photo will need to be worked) CUTLINE: Thomson's Durrell Jackson and a host of Dogs wrap up a Hephzibah player.