Back-to-back breakaway runs touchdown runs of 60 and 69 yards by Torrie Battle and Chris Jordan in the second half busted open a tight game, while William Bussey’s 95-yard interception return on the last play of the third quarter sealed the deal.
“I thought we played one of our more complete games tonight in every phase,” said Thomson head coach Milan Turner. “Our kids made some big plays. Defensively had some turnovers and offense took over and stayed the course and played physical.”
The Bulldogs play host to Johnson-Savannah (5-6) in the second round next Friday at the Brickyard.
Johnson, the third seed from Region 1, had never won a state playoff game before Friday’s 32-23 win at Chapel Hill. The Atomsmashers had to make a nine-hour round trip for its first-round game.
The Bulldogs (11-0) led only 7-0 at halftime, and on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter starting quarterback Chris Tutt twisted his ankle at the end of an 11-yard run.
But the Thomson rushing offense didn’t miss a beat with backup Quay Cummings taking over at quarterback. Three plays after Tutt limped off the field on the shoulders of team trainers, Battle broke loose off the right side for a 60-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Jackson responded with a long drive, settling for a 28-yard field goal, but on the next Thomson play from scrimmage Jordan broke through Red Devils tackles and took off for a 69-yard score and the 21-3 lead.
“Just some big plays made,” said Jordan, crediting the offensive line for giving them just enough of a seam to make something happen. “It’s playoff time. Win or go home and we don’t want to go home yet.”
Jackson’s pass-oriented offense mounted another drive as deep as the Thomson 5. But on third-and-goal from the 17, Will Lane’s pass was tipped by Quay Heath and Bussey hauled it in at the 5 and took off for a 95-yard score as the third quarter expired.
“Go,” was all Bussey thought when he saw the open field. “It was a good play by Quay Heath to make that ball pop up in the air.”
Thomson dominated the ground game, rushing for 325 yards on 41 carries. While the Bulldogs’ defense gave up 235 passing yards, it accounted for four interceptions and stuffed Jackson’s rushing game to only 3 yards on the night.
“They’ve got those two really good wideouts,” said Turner. “We knew they were going to catch some passes. But we wanted to take away the run, which I thought we did very effectively and kept them in front of us and made some interceptions. When we shrunk the field down on them and took that away from them, that was it.”
Tutt was on crutches wearing a boot on his left foot after the game for what he said was a high ankle sprain. But Turner hopes his talented sophomore can return for next Friday’s game against Johnson-Savannah.
“He’s just got a sprain,” Turner said. “We felt like it was bad enough that he didn’t need to go back in. We felt confident with Quay Cummings going in there and he did a good job leading the offense. He’s got a lot of varsity experience. He’s a gamer and it’s in him. We think we’ll get Chris back.”
Thomson and Jackson also met in the first round of the 2008 playoffs, with the Bulldogs beating the previously unbeaten Red Devils 28-14 in Harkness, Ga. Jackson came to The Brickyard on Friday hoping to return the favor to 10-0 Thomson.
Jackson had a chance to become the 10th team in 11 games to take a lead on the Bulldogs, but Red Devils kicker Andrew Kish missed wide left on a 30-yard field goal in the first quarter after a 36-yard open seam pass from Lane to Ira Sheppard had set Jackson up in the red zone.
Thomson responded with its only scoring drive of the first half, going 80 yards in 13 plays. Jordan finished it off with a driving 6-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead with 10:16 left in the second quarter.
Jackson (6-5) threatened to tie it up late in the half. But on third-and-goal at the Bulldogs’ 3, receiver Sheppard’s poorly flung option pass was intercepted by Battle.
According to MaxPreps, Thomson is ranked No. 1 entering the playoffs for the fifth time. The Bulldogs were also top-ranked in 1965, ’68, ’69 and 2002, winning state titles in both ’68 and ’02. Thomson was ranked No. 2 entering the playoffs during their state championship seasons of 1967, ’84 and ’85.