THOMSON, Ga. -- Richmond Academy made its biennial appearance at Thomson's Brickyard, and Friday night the Musketeers finally found their way to Victory Lane with a come-from-behind 19-16 win.
The driver to erase ARC's 18-year drought against these Bulldogs proved to be senior Larry Lee, a shifty tailback who proved capable of plowing his way through the offensive line one play and capable of cutting back cross-field the next.
Coach Jim Turner milked his offensive star on this see-your-breath kind of night, calling his number 32 times as Lee responded with 182 yards. It's been a tumultuous relationship between coach and runner this season, but if Lee can keep kicking like Bruce Lee in future Region 3-AAA games, the coach may just adopt him.
"He's been on my list since the start of the season," a relieved Turner said amidst an ARC postgame celebration. "Larry can be a pain in the neck. But he's a big-game player, and he showed that tonight. I think I'm going to have to start treating him better."
Lee, a 180-pound senior, wasn't alive during the last ARC win over Thomson, and neither were the majority of current purple-panted Musketeers. But he ran with purpose all night.
Trailing 6-0, ARC methodically marched through the Bulldogs, taking 14 plays and more than seven minutes to find the end zone. Lee, on his 12th run of the drive, vaulted in from one yard for a 7-6 score.
"I don't care how many times I rushed or how many yards I got," said Lee, whose team joined a logjam atop the region standings. "What matters is that we won. We beat Thomson for the first time in 18 years. We don't have to hear about that any more."
The nip-and-tuck affair's complexion changed dramatically minutes into the third quarter. Thomson's bulldozer, Arlando Moss, jumped up for an Anthony Young pass and landed all 250 pounds of his body on his left leg. He lay in pain for five minutes, needing five Thomson coaches to carry him to the sideline as his screams of agony were audible above the silent crowd.
Moss told Thomson coach Butch Jacobs that he couldn't feel his toes and that he couldn't put any weight on his leg. Thomson's leading tackler and the game's leading receiver was carted off by stretcher and taken to McDuffie County Hospital, and late Friday night, he was in fair condition.
"There was nothing broken," Jacobs said. "But the swelling started so fast, it blocked one of the nerves and he couldn't feel anything. He was scared because he couldn't feel anything. When he went out, it really hurt us on both sides of the ball.
The Bulldogs stalled without their best athlete, as Young threw a slant that ARC freshman Jason Anthony stepped in front of and returned 35 yards to cut the score to 14-13. Without Moss, Thomson looked lost, running 22 plays and gaining 47 yards, 36 coming on their final desperate possession.
ARC took advantage of generous fourth-quarter field position, and with Lee's motors revving during the one-point deficit, the Musketeers found paydirt. Using four Lee runs to position itself at Thomson's 4, ARC quarterback Davis Beman faked to Lee and lofted a soft pass to Muhammad Rashada for the deciding score.
"You don't wish any ill-will toward anyone, but when Moss went out, we knew we had to step it up," Lee said. "He was a dominant player out there. Without him, our offensive line gained confidence and we were able to control the clock."
And for the first time in 18 years, ARC could control the smiles.
Records: Richmond Academy (5-2, Region 3-AAA 5-1); Thomson (2-5, 2-4). Next game: ARC vs. Greenbrier, Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Thomson at Josey, Friday, 7:30 p.m..