WAYNESBORO, Ga. -- The first half was most successful for the Thomson High Bulldogs.
But the second half all belonged to the Burke County Bears, as the two teams played for the 2010 Region 3-AAA football championship at the Burke County field in Waynesboro last Friday night.
The Bears ended up prevailing 27-9.
Even so, the Bulldogs came in runners-up and will host the first round of the Georgia High School Association Class AAA state playoffs at The Brickyard this Friday night. They will go up against Worth County, who defeated Crisp County. Burke County, meanwhile, will host Crisp County in another state playoff battle on Friday. Kickoff for this week's playoff game is 7:30 p.m.
"We started off pretty good," said Thomson head coach Luther Welsh. "We just weren't able to do anything offensively in the second half. Their defense was just too strong. They were just better than we were tonight."
Thomson, now 8-2, turned its football program completely around this year. A year ago, the Bulldogs won only two games all season. They finished with a record of 2-8 in 2009.
"It's nice to be back in the state playoffs," said coach Welsh. "I didn't like it last year because we didn't make the playoffs."
After the Bears of head coach Eric Parker went up 6-0 with a touchdown on their first possession of the game, the Bulldogs stormed right back and tallied 9 unanswered points. Thomson led 9-7 at halftime.
Coach Parker, whose Bears, have won a pair of region titles during his four-years at the helm, said he and his assistant coaches made some adjustments at halftime that helped to make the difference in the outcome of the game.
"We were fortunate; our kids responded," said coach Parker.
Thomson took the opening kickoff and moved the ball downfield in impressive fashion. It was sparked by a nice kickoff return by Torrie Battle, a sophomore, who was moved up to the varsity team following an undefeated junior varsity season.
The Bulldogs drove all the way to the Burke County 12, where the drive stalled. On a fourth down and 6 play, Thomson placekicker Telles Cardoso was called upon to attempt a field goal -- one that ended up missing far to the left of the cross bar.
Thomson Junior quarterback Josh Jones spearheaded the opening drive with nice runs from running backs Dontavious "Juicy" Brown, Shawn Bonner and Chris Jordan.
When the Bears got their hands on the football for the first time, they drove 80 yards to pay dirt.
Led by junior quarterback Corey Mayton, the Bears wasted no time establishing their running game with such players as Montres Kitchens, Rashad Davis and Devin Beverly.
With 4:30 left in the first quarter, the Bears scored their first touchdown. It came on a 3 yard run by Mayton. The PAT was kicked by UnTorrey Thomas. It gave the Bears a 7-0 lead.
Following the ensuing kickoff, Jones helped lead the Bulldogs on a 75 yard scoring drive. It was capped by a 44 yard touchdown pass from Jones to Battle, his first varsity touchdown. It came with 11:03 to play in the second quarter. Cardoso's extra point attempt failed.
As a result, Burke County held a slim one-point lead of 7-6.
The Thomson defensive unit, led by Leroy Cummings, Marquavious Jones, Anthony "Scooter" Moss, Nic Wood, Ronald Jackson, Jacoby Crawford and Kentrell Reynolds forced the Bears to punt on their next possession. Moss went on to record two sacks in the game. He has nine sacks to his credit on the season. One of the two sacks against the Burke County quarterback resulted in a 15 yard loss in the second quarter.
Thomson took advantage of a poor punt by the Bears later in the second quarter. The Bulldogs got excellent field position at the Burke County 31 to begin another march towards the end zone. With 2:17 left in the first half, Jordan ran for a crucial first down on a fourth down and 2 play.
Cardoso later kicked a 22 yard field goal with just 25 seconds left that gave Thomson their first and only lead of the game, 9-7.
In the second half, the Bears dominated -- both offensively and defensively. After allowing Thomson eight first downs in the first half, the Bears returned in the second half and slammed the door on the Bulldogs, offensively. They were held to just three first downs, limited yardage and kept off the scoreboard.