Open dates on football schedules: they are view with disdain and joy, or a combination of both.
For the Thomson Bulldogs, the free Friday night meant healing and the two weeks without a game meant fixing and neatening.
The Bulldogs (7-2, 5-1 in Region 3-AAA) close out the regular season Friday night at the Hephzibah Rebels (3-4, 2-3 in 3-AAA). The Rebels lost 49-27 to Harlem Friday night.
Tickets will only be sold at the gate in Hephzibah Friday prior to the game.
Over the weekend, the region shakeout for the first round games of the state playoffs became a lot clearer after Morgan County upset Burke County 41-21 at Burke County Friday night.
Now, Richmond Academy is in the top spot, with THS being second seed. With a win over Harlem Friday night, Morgan County will wrap up No. 3 seed. Burke County is No. 4 seed.
THS and Hephzibah have tangled 20 times since 1978, the year THS lost 32-25. Thomson has won all other matchups, and the last time the Dogs played the Rebels, THS came away with a 55-20 win at The Brickyard.
By this time of season, 9 games-in, there are bound to be some pains – those are expected. You do not go repeatedly hit and not hurt. Sometimes, the injuries go a bit deeper and the extra off time is welcomed.
“It is coming at a perfect time for us to heal up and fix up,” said Michael Youngblood, THS head coach. “We would rather have a game right before playoffs start because we want to keep things in synch. An open date right before the last game of the season gives you a chance to go back and look at some things we may not have been proficient at. In our case, the throwing game and we looked at inside run game.”
Injury-wise, Thomson is hoping to get Snoop Williams back. He has been hobbled by a hamstring issue.
“He is day-to-day… said Youngblood, adding that Williams is the only serious injury. ”We are going to hold him out until the playoffs because this game has no implications in the seeding.”
Another aspect that Youngblood says is critical is thankfulness.
“We feel blessed – because with all the COVID 19 cases across the state affecting football, we are fortunate that we have steered clear of having to cancel games,” he said. “Other teams have had to do away with games, and we can’t be complacent with our health and we have to be as careful as we can be going forward.”
Despite past history and the face that the Dogs will come into Friday night as heavy favorites, Youngblood is cautious.
“From what we’ve seen, they’re going to run the spread offense,” said Youngblood. “They have a real good quarterback and he can throw the ball, and we have to take that away.”
Receiving special attention are seniors: slot back Erick Harris Jr., and quarterback Marshall Chambers.”
“Those two make a lot of plays happen for them and that quarterback will keep the ball sometimes and run the draw and isolation,” Youngblood noted.
Chambers was 8-of-10 passing for 98 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 213 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Harlem.
The coach said the cannines are going to face a 4-4 defense.
“That’s what they’ve shown, and we have to make them adjust to some things we feel we have to make them do. We have pieces of the puzzle that we worked on last week and this week is a matter of cleaning things up.”
When talk goes to when a team should win big, Youngblood said he thought the Dogs were smarter than that.
“We can’t afford to overlook any team, and we found that out earlier in the year,” said the coach, referring to the upset loss to Richmond Academy) It’s been funny – some teams, people would say – how did Richmond win that game, or we should have done this or that to win. Burke County is doing the same after Morgan County beat them.”
Youngblood, when asked to make an educated guess about the opponent in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs, he mentioned the Tattnall Warriors (1-8 overall, and 1-2 in Region 1-AAA.
But with all that and other talk, the coach said THS’ primary mission was to “finish up our regular season on a good note and go to 8-2 and second in region. After this Friday night, it’s loser go home.”
Youngblood know the Dogs were fortunate to escape a road trip in the first round with the win by Morgan Co game.
“The goal is to play six football games from this point forward,” said Youngblood. “If we play six football games, we will have done some great things.”