ONLINE EXTRA: Watch highlights from the first half of the Thomson vs. Liberty County game.
A lot was on the line when the Thomson High Bulldogs played host to the visiting Liberty County Panthers in The Brickyard on Friday night. The biggest thing was a shot at a playoff spot.
When everything was said and done, it all belonged to the Panthers. Liberty County marched in and took the game before Thomson had an opportunity to put its hands on the football.
They ended up trouncing the Bulldogs 31-0 before a large home crowd.
Liberty County quickly scored a pair of touchdowns. After driving down the field on their first position for what turned out to be pay dirt on a 3-yard run by sophomore running back Shadrach Thornton, the Panthers struck again after the ensuing kickoff.
Liberty County head coach Kirk Warner decided he'd try an on-side kick like the Panthers have done against other opponents this season. The idea worked to perfection. The Panthers recovered the ball at the Thomson 46 with 7:50 left in the opening quarter. A few plays later, the Panthers made it back into the end zone with another touchdown.
Senior quarterback Julian Stokes hit senior wide receiver Sinjin Mullins on a 25-yard pass in the end zone. The Panthers went up 14-0 on Eddie Chipple's second extra point of the game.
"They're a good football team," Thomson head coach Luther Welsh said. "They were just better than we were."
The on-side kick turned out to be one of the biggest plays of the game, he said.
"It had a lot to do with the outcome," lamented Welsh. "We got shocked and weren't able to ever recover from it. The more we played, the worse we got.
"Offensively, they just played better than we did."
The loss gives Thomson a record of 1-1 in Region 3-AAA and a 2-3 overall record.
For the Bulldogs, the schedule doesn't get any better.
This Friday night, they travel to Sandersville to take on the undefeated Washington County Golden Hawks in another key region match-up.
"You're right, it doesn't get any easier," Welsh said. "We've got to get better if we're going to win any more football games."
Just one week after playing Washington County on the road, the Bulldogs will hit the road again for Buford, another tough opponent who defeated Thomson last year at The Brickyard.
The next week, they will return to The Brickyard for a showdown against West Laurens in their homecoming game. Thomson will then travel to Waynesboro, Ga., to battle the Burke County Bears before returning home for their last regular season game of the year against the Baldwin Braves of Milledgeville.
"We've got to start finding a way to move the ball consistently," Welsh said. "It's a problem that has bothered us all year. And we've got to stop turning the football over."
The latter was again a problem against Liberty County.
"Every time we tried to get something going, something went wrong," said Welsh.
Liberty County rushed for 252 yards against Thomson, while the Bulldogs were able to muster only 62 yards rushing. Through the air, the Panthers gained 28 yards, completing two of seven passes. Thomson junior quarter Phillip Anderson, meanwhile, connected on only one of nine passes for 11 yards.
Anderson's biggest assignment on the night was punting. He booted the ball eight times for a 39.4 yard average.