Beyond the structural improvements this season at The Brickyard, another striking difference is the loss of Luther Welsh.
The beloved Bulldogs coach who led the school to three state championships died in the offseason. He would've been proud of his former team Friday night. In its home opener, Thomson dominated Hephzibah with its powerful offensive line and running game for a 50-6 win.
"We were full of anticipation," Bulldogs quarterback Josh Jones said. "We were just ready to get after it."
Thomson improved to 17-1 all-time against Hephzibah, the Rebels' lone series win coming in 1978. The Bulldogs also recorded their first 4-0 start in five seasons.
After pulling out a double-overtime win the previous week at Washington County, Thomson came home and established its running game early.
On the Bulldogs' second drive, Ladricus Bonner scored from 30 yards out. Two drives later, Jones beat two Hephzibah defenders, who had an angle on him, around the left side for a 15-yard run.
Thomson finished with 390 yards on the ground on 39 carries. Torrie Battle posted 112 yards on nine carries for one touchdown, while Bonner added 84 yards on nine rushes for two scores. Battle also returned a punt 40 yards for a touchdown late in the first half, which gave the Bulldogs a 29-0 lead at intermission.
"We're still making mistakes in all phases of the game that we've got to eliminate," Thomson coach Milan Turner said. "I thought there were some things we did at times tonight that were good. And I thought there were some times where we got a little sloppy."
Hephzibah had trouble all night trying to establish offense. Quarterback Terry Robinson, who had little time to run or throw, tossed an interception on the second play of the game. It was a bad omen for a Rebels squad that mustered just 25 total yards of offense.
Hephzibah played without two key offensive players -- wide receiver Quan Darlington (disciplinary) and running back Marcus Smith.
"It's hard enough playing Thomson when you've got your pistol loaded, but when your pistol's half-loaded it's hard to move it on these guys," Rebels coach John Bowen said. "But we showed some fight that could pay off down the road."