The player who worries Thomson coach Luther Welsh the most is the same one who threw for 211 yards and three touchdowns against the Bulldogs in last year's Class AAAA state title game.
And Thomas County Central quarterback Erik Walden wasn't even 100 percent then.
He won't be at full strength when the Yellow Jackets travel to the Brickyard at 7:30 p.m. Friday to face Thomson in the playoff's second round - he's nursing a sprained knee suffered against Cairo. But he's a year older, a year stronger and a year more mature.
He could spell doom for the Bulldogs.
"You're not joking," Welsh said. "He was still good last year. He can play with pain. He's a tough kid, and plus, he's a year older."
The question is, can he help Thomas County Central avenge last season's 42-27 defeat in the state finals?
Without the 6-foot, 180-pound senior, the Yellow Jackets lost 36-34 to Ware County in the Region 1-AAAA championship game Nov. 14, knocking them to the No. 2 seed and forcing them on the road for the second round of the playoffs.
But Walden returned last week against Pebblebrook, and although Thomas County Central coach Ed Pilcher said "he looked a little rusty, " he helped the Yellow Jackets to a 35-10 win.
"We only had one turnover, as compared to nine turnovers in the previous two games (without him)," Pilcher said. "That's a big difference."
Overall, Thomas County Central (10-1) is probably a better squad than the team the Bulldogs (10-1) played last year.
The Yellow Jackets crushed the three Class AAAAA teams they played by a combined score of 105-41, and although they fell to the Gators, they were the No. 1 team in Class AAAA for most of the year.
The rankings don't lie.
"They have the quarterback and the running back (Moses Cochran) back, and they're much larger than they were last year," Welsh said. "It'll be hard for us, because we've got juniors and we're not as big. We're going to have problems."
The least of which is the so-called revenge factor. Pilcher said the vengeance mentality won't be present Friday.
"We've forgotten about that; that's over and done with," he said. "There's nothing we can do about it. We're looking at it in this way: it's the next step of the playoffs. You get caught up in the revenge factor, and that's going to take away from your focus."
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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