WAYNESBORO, Ga. – One of the area’s most highly-anticipated games of the high school season lived up to the billing Friday night.
Burke County turned to the arm and legs of Damari Kelly down the stretch to pull off the stunner. The fifth-ranked Bears scored 13 points in the second half to beat No. 2 Thomson 27-24 in the Bear Den in a rivalry classic.
Burke County moved to 9-0, including 4-0 in Region 3-AAAA, to secure the region’s top spot. The Bears moved to 18-16 all-time against Thomson and beat the Bulldogs for the first time since 2015. They also handed their rival just their fourth loss since the start of 2015.
Kelly, Burke County’s senior quarterback, led the Bears when it mattered most by driving them downfield late in the third quarter and scoring on a 2-yard run for a 21-17 lead. He again drove them midway through the fourth and scored on another 2-yard run for a 27-17 lead, which held the rest of the way.
Kelly rushed 12 times f0r 68 yards and two touchdowns, most of the yardage coming in the second half. Jaylen Odom totaled 100 rushing yards on just six carries while adding a key interception in the fourth quarter.
Thomson (7-1, 3-1) was held to just seven points in the second half on a late 11-yard touchdown run by Tyler Curry. Mills Ridings went 6 for 13 for 194 yards, while the talented rushing attack was held to 142 yards.
Mistakes cost Burke County scoring chances on its first two possessions despite driving with ease. Thomson took advantage by claiming a 7-0 lead on a Christian Tutt 9-yard touchdown run at 6:28 in the first quarter.
The Bears finally broke through early in the second when Odom found daylight up the middle for a 14-yard touchdown run and tie at 7.
The Bulldogs immediately hit back when Ridings found Tutt on a 43-yard pass, but the offense stalled deep in Bear territory thanks to three consecutive plays for loss, including a 10-yard sack on third down that caused a punt.
After Burke County went three-and-out, Thomson blocked the ensuing punt and took advantage of a short field to score on a 10-yard run by Tutt for a 14-7 lead. The Bears answered when Odom broke for a 60-yard run to set up a Bill Knight 1-yard touchdown run for a tie at 14 with 1:17 left in the half.
Thomson got back to the 10-yard line and managed a 27-yard field goal by Sam Derry as time expired for a 17-14 halftime lead.