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Cosmos Kendrick jars the ball loose from Brave quarterback Gerald Kilgore.

The Thomson Bulldogs scored early and often against the Baldwin Braves Friday night in Milledgeville.

Thomson blasted the Braves 36-21 in the Dogs’ first region game.

The victory sets up this week’s homecoming game at The Brickyard against Cross Creek. It will be the first time the Dogs (3-4, 1-1) have been home since Sept. 13.

It was a welcome change to the team who had lost four in a row against teams in higher classifications. Also in question was how the Bulldogs would play in the second half, which had been at issue in four losses.

“Our offensive line maintained blocks and our running backs ran with confidence,” said THS head coach Michael Youngblood. “Our defense responded well. I felt we played well early and late, adopted a bend-but-don’t break mentality.” It only took 14 seconds to get things going for the Dogs as Lil’Vasco Winfrey returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown.

On the Braves’ first possession of the game, the Dogs forced a fumble at the Brave 45, and four plays later, Kindarius Green ran the ball in from 16 yards out.

Baldwin’s next possession went south as THS’ defense toughened again and hurried the Braves quarterback into throwing an incomplete pass from the end zone, resulting in an intentional grounding call. The resulting safety gave the Dogs a 22-0 lead with nearly seven minutes remaining in the first quarter.

Winfrey took the ensuing kickoff and bolted to another TD, this time on a 77-yard run.

Baldwin had their turn, but couldn’t get a first down and punted the ball to the Braves 49.

Then, THS quarterback Tay Martin and Green shredded the defense for 11 plays that culminated in a 19-yard scoring pass from Martin to Rodney Lazenby. One of John Joiner’s four PATs on the night gave the Dogs a 29-0 lead.

The two teams traded punts until the Braves were able to score their first points on a 6-yard TD pass from Kilgore to Zaahir Salahuddin.

Next, the Braves recovered a THS fumble at the Bulldog 48 and turned it into points five plays later on a one-yard run by Noah Hill to help the Braves to a 29-14 lead.

The Dogs’ next possession just before the half looked promising, but a holding call erased a 24 yard scoring pass from Martin to Snoop Williams.

Baldwin conducted homecoming exercises on the field and the Braves apparently found some firepower in the locker room, as they took the kickoff and scored after six plays on a four-yard run by Hill.

With the score 29-21, Youngblood and others wondered how the Dogs would react, especially after having second halves that had not turned out well in the last four games.

With just under nine minutes remaining in the game, fans and the Dogs got their answer when Martin plowed in from five yards out.

The Braves tried to answer back, but Thomson’s defense had other ideas and recovered a fumble at the Bulldog 43 with seven minutes left in the game. The Dogs then managed the clock and the ball driving to the Braves 12 before the clock ran out.

After the game, amid the Bulldog celebration, Youngblood praised his team.

“We scored in the fourth quarter, and then we held the ball the rest of the fourth quarter,” he beamed. “That was big on our offense to keep our defense off the field. I didn’t want our quarterback to take those hits, but I didn’t want us handing the ball off, either. He was athletic enough to hold on to the ball and make some people miss.”

Thomson had 248 yards of total offense, with Green picking up 117 yards on 18 rushes, and Martin toting the ball 27 times for 109 yards.

Thomson’s defense was greedy, only allowing 162 yards of Brave offense, while recovering three fumbles.

Skyler Lewis led the defense with seven tackles. Keshon Germany, Cosmos Kendrick, Zavion Cade, Damon Arnette, Rodney Lazenby, and Kurtis Cummings were next with six tackles.

The coach said the two-weeks off with the open date helped the team find new wrinkles and gave the team a rest before region started.

“We have been finding different ways to get Kindarius the ball… but we realized he wasn’t touching the ball enough,” said Youngblood. “We knew we had a player who could impact the game, but we weren’t using him enough, so we moved him to running back. It allowed some not having to go both ways.”

Now the Dogs look to keep the wins coming as the region games keep coming.

The Razorbacks of Cross Creek are 2-5 overall. On Friday night, Burke County, who Thomson will face November 1, in Waynesboro, defeated the Razorbacks 55-7 at Cross Creek Stadium.

“They can be athletic, and they will try and spread the ball around,” said Youngblood. “It’s one of those things that we have to go into homecoming week and produce. I’ve explained to the players that the week’s festivities are for our fans and our school. Our football team has to go out and compete. We have to clean up mistakes and must ensure we do not have an emotional letdown.”

The answer to a 3-AAAA region title is simple, but complicated for the Bulldogs.

“We have to take care of this game Friday night in order to play for a region title,” said Youngblood. “We have to play our best game each time out and to be honest, we have not played a complete four-quarter game yet, and that’s what we are after.”

Fans are encouraged to welcome the Bulldogs back to The Brickyard after the long road trip at the Dog Walk which will be held at 5:45 p.m. Friday at the stadium.

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