“It’s all about guts with these kids,” said Thomson coach Milan Turner, whose Bulldogs already opened the season with a victory over preseason No. 1 Burke County from Class AAAA. “Their fight and their want-to, they find a way just like we did against Burke County. ... For us to find a way to pull that out was just huge for our kids.”
While Chris Jordan, Torrie Battle and quarterback Chris Tutt carried most of the 295-yard rushing load and accounted for Thomson’s three touchdowns, safety William Bussey was an integral part of all of the second-half turnovers that determined the outcome.
Bussey fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half, giving St. Pius a short field to take its first lead of the night, 14-7, after a 15-yard touchdown pass from Jack Spear to Branden Mitchell.
Thomson stormed back with a quick 72-yard touchdown drive, and Bussey subsequently forced a St. Pius fumble to set up a 12-yard touchdown drive to retake the lead with 3:43 left in the third quarter.
Then it was Bussey again who recovered a fumble and made a game-clinching interception on the Golden Lions’ last two possessions in Thomson territory in the final three minutes.
“We had a few opportunities where we could have folded,” Turner said. “Gave them a fumble and a short field on that kickoff return. They take a lead and we get the ball and – poof – we go down the field and tie it up.
“Our defense rose to the occasion and made plays when they had to.”
Bussey wasn’t getting carried away with his late-game heroics.
“We can play better,” said the senior who has collegiate offers from Marshall and Georgia Southern. “We can be a lot better. Just have to clean up the sloppy stuff and come back and play strong against LaGrange.”
Jordan rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown to lead the Bulldogs’ 295-yard rushing output against St. Pius. Tutt (42 yards) and Battle (70) scored rushing touchdowns of 31 and 6 yards, respectively, just more than two minutes apart in the third quarter to rally the Bulldogs from a 14-7 deficit to the Golden Lions from Atlanta.
“Knowing that we could come out and beat a great team, that brings us up and we’ve got to keep the momentum going,” said Jordan, who amassed 328 yards a week ago against Lakeside.
St. Pius head coach Paul Standard had called Jordan “out of this world,” and the senior wasted no time giving the Golden Lions a personal taste. Jordan broke four tackles in the middle of the field before finding an outside lane on a 58-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the night. After two plays from scrimmage, the Bulldogs led 7-0 in the first meeting between the two tradition-rich schools.
Jordan, however, had only one more carry for zero yards in the first half as the Bulldogs compiled only 59 additional yards in the half.
The Golden Lions’ methodical rushing game got working after that, but a 14-play drive came up empty on a missed 45-yard field goal.
The St. Pius special teams capitalized on its next chance, converting a 13-yard fake punt pass at its own 33 despite the passer clearly stepping over the 35 before throwing. The no-call kept alive a 13-play, 70-yard drive capped by a 2-yard off tackle touchdown by senior fullback Ryan Braswell that tied the game at 7-7 with 3:36 left in the first half.
St. Pius outgained Thomson 146-117 in the first half before the Bulldogs flipped it in the second 196-123.
With two victories already over top-ranked programs, Thomson travels across state to take on perennial power LaGrange.
“With our schedule, every one we win is a statement game,” said Turner.