Thomson High football head coach Luther Welsh admits that he is baffled by the number of turnovers his players have made in the last two games. During that period, the Bulldogs have committed four costly miscues that have led to touchdowns and victories by opponents.
The latest such loss was against the Statesboro Blue Devils on a soggy and muddy Thomson field, known as The Brickyard, after heavy rains came through before the start of the game last Friday night. After a scoreless first half, a pair of Thomson turnovers in the second half enabled the Blue Devils to escape with a 13-0 win.
It was the second straight week that Thomson has lost a game due to turnovers. The week before, they were beaten 24-6 by Hart County.
"Somehow, we've got to learn to hold onto the football," lamented coach Welsh after the Statesboro loss. "It's as simple as that. I've never had a team have these kinds of problems over and over again."
Coach Welsh explained that his Bulldogs, now 1-2 and who hit the road this Friday night for their first region encounter of the season against Richmond Hill, performed well preparing for the Statesboro game.
"I don't know what happened, except that we couldn't hold onto the football," said coach Welsh. "We've got to stop turning the ball over and allowing the other team to score. We've got to start correcting these kinds of mistakes and winning football games."
The longtime head coach went on to say, "Who knows, maybe it's me. Maybe, I've stayed in it (coaching) too long."
Statesboro head coach Steve Pennington, who is in his fifth year of guiding the Class AAAA Blue Devils, said of his team's win, "We just got some breaks. We were fortunate."
The week before the game with Thomson, Statesboro was defeated by the Burke County Bears 35-17 in Waynesboro. Thomson plays Burke County in their ninth game of the season.
Now that region play is under way, the Bulldogs must get down to some serious business, if they plan to be region championship contenders, said the legendary head coach.
"We've got to start playing Thomson High School football," added coach Welsh. "If we don't, we're not going to win very many football games I can tell you that."
As much as Coach Welsh was disappointed in the loss, so was Thomson offensive coordinator Bobby Thomas.
"We've got to learn that when something bad happens to us, how to handle the adversity and still go on," Coach Thomas said. "We've got to do a better job when adversity hits."
With the win, Statesboro now leads the series 11-9-1 in the 21 games played between the two teams since 1964.
Neither team was able to penetrate beyond the 20-yard line of each other during the first half. The game, which saw periods of rain in the first half, was a defensive struggle.
Thomson's Jay Bieltz kicked off to Statesboro to begin the second half. The Bulldogs again stopped the Blue Devils, forcing them to punt the ball away. Three of the defensive stars coming through for the Bulldogs during the stop included Jacoby Crawford, Abram Cartledge and Denzel Burley. Cartledge rushed Statesboro punter Todd Cone, causing him to make a bad kick. As a result, Thomson took possession of the ball at their 49.
Thomson junior running back Dontavis "Juicy" Brown then reeled off three consecutive runs, which got the Bulldogs to the Statesboro 26 and facing a fourth down and 1 situation. Coach Welsh decided to gamble for the first down rather than trying a field goal. Senior running back Brandon Huff got the call and made the crucial first down.
On the next play, Huff eluded several Statesboro players and got down to the Blue Devils' nine for another key first down.
Brown then carried inside the five before the ball was stripped from his hands by Statesboro's Joe Collins. The loose ball was picked up by junior linebacker Branden Williams who then ran down the Statesboro sideline for 73 yards before being tackled by Thomson's sophomore defensive back Jalen Tucker, who kept the runner from getting into the end zone at the 20.
Several plays later, Statesboro senior running back Lamar Stimage scored on a 10-yard run with 2:51 left in the third quarter. The extra point by Caleb Brown failed. The Blue Devils, nevertheless, held a 6-0 lead.
Another Thomson fumble occurred on the first play from scrimmage following the ensuing kickoff. And suddenly, Statesboro had their hands back on the ball again, recovering the miscue at the Thomson 35.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils scored again. The touchdown came on an 8-yard run by junior running back Aaron Lester. Brown's extra point put Statesboro up 13-0.
Thomson later threatened to get on the scoreboard after mounting a drive that began at their 20 with 5:56 left to play in the game. Junior quarterback Phillip Anderson went to work with an aerial assault, hitting Will Tankersley on two fine receptions that covered a distance of 27 yards. Anderson later found Nick Rau open on a pass play, which got the Bulldogs all the way to the Statesboro 44. Anthony "Scooter" Moss was later called upon the run for the necessary first down yardage to keep the drive alive.
Three downs later, Anderson connected with Rau on another pass, which got the Bulldogs to the Statesboro 24 with just over 3 minutes left in the game. Statesboro's William Golden ended the Thomson threat when he intercepted Anderson's pass on the next play. Thomson's Leroy Cummings made a saving touchdown tackle on the play.