Mistakes, slow start bite Bulldogs in region loss

Highlights from the first half of the Liberty County vs. Thomson High football game
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THOMSON, Ga. -- A Thomson offense that was uncatchable proved incapable of playing catch-up on Friday night.

Liberty County scored two touchdowns before Thomson even touched the ball, and the visiting Panthers coasted from there to a 31-0 Region 3-AAA demolition of Thomson at the Brickyard.

Shadrach Thornton rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown as the Panthers piled up 252 rushing yards to Thomson's anemic 62.

"They scored real quick and our people got shocked a little bit," Thomson coach Luther Welsh said. "That's the worst we've got."

Thomson's restored wing-T offense that piled up 65 points against Richmond Hill last week was shut down and held to only four first downs and 73 total yards. No Thomson player accounted for more than 26 yards of offense Friday.

"I knew going in that they were better than us personnel-wise," Welsh said. "If we had some offense we would have been in the ballgame."

Liberty County (4-2, 1-1) scored on its opening two possessions and converted two fumbles into 10 points on Thomson's first two possessions of the second half to force the Bulldogs (2-3, 1-1 Region 3-AAA) into a deep hole they couldn't recover from.

Things could not have started worse for Thomson. Liberty County took the opening kickoff and methodically marched 61 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown. The big play was a 35-yard burst by Thornton through a gaping hole to the Bulldogs' 3.

The Panthers weren't content with that, however, and caught Thomson sleeping with an unchallenged onside kickoff recovered at the Bulldogs 46. Four plays later on third down, Julian Stokes hit Sinjin Mullins in the left corner of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead before Thomson ever touched the football.

"We told them to be ready for it," Welsh said of the onside which Liberty County tried twice. "They've formed a habit of going back."

Liberty County rushed for 145 yards and threw for 28 more in racking up eight first downs in the first half. Thomson rushed for just 55 yards and three first downs before the half.

The Bulldogs couldn't take advantage of a break near the end of the first half. After Stokes overthrew a wide-open receiver for what could have been a 92-yard touchdown, Thomson got the ball after a poor punt at the Liberty County 36 with 2:34 left.

But despite a first down courtesy of the Panthers being offside, two Phillip Anderson passes into the end zone fell incomplete and a desperate 47-yard field goal attempt by Jay Bieltz came up way short.

Any hope Thomson had of recovering vanished quickly in the third quarter. Anderson fumbled a snap in the Bulldogs' first possession, and the Panthers recovered at the Thomson 25 to set up a 37-yard field goal by Eddie Chipple.

Two plays later, a reverse handoff was intercepted by Soloman Ball and taken 22 yards for a touchdown and an insurmountable 24-0 lead.

"That made it worse," said Welsh. "It's hard for (the offense) to overcome mistakes."

On this night, even Thomson's good plays turned bad. John Atkins blocked a 30-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter, but a Thomson defender tried to pick it up and ended up fumbling the ball back to Liberty County at the 9. Two plays later, Samuel Carter scored a touchdown from 3 yards out to complete the blowout.

The loss is critical to Thomson's playoff hopes as the Bulldogs now have to travel to region leader and undefeated Washington County next week.

"If it don't get any better there won't be any playoffs," Welsh said.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.

LIBERTY CO. 31, THOMSON 0


PLAY OF THE GAME:

Onside kick after opening touchdown caught Thomson off guard and helped boost Liberty County to a quick 14-0 lead.

WHY LIBERTY COUNTY WON: Panthers had the better talent in piling up 252 rushing yards.

WHY THOMSON LOST: Bulldogs' reinstated wing-T offense stumbled and three second-half turnovers sealed it.

STAR OF THE GAME: Shadrach Thornton rushed 24 times for 132 yards and the initial touchdown for the visiting Panthers.

NEXT: Thomson at Washington County, 7:30 p.m., Friday.

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