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GOTW: Thomasville at Brooks County

Every Thursday, Class AA blogger Adam Krohn will preview a game of the week (GOTW).

Thomasville Bulldogs at Brooks County Trojans
When, where: 
7:30 p.m. Friday, Veterans Stadium, Quitman
Records, rankings: Thomasville is 8-0 overall, 2-0 in Region 1-AA and No. 5; Brooks County is 7-0, 2-0 and No. 6.
Last meeting: Thomasville won 32-13 in 2016.
Things to know: Brooks County can clinch the region title with a victory. Thomasville can take sole possession of first but would need to defeat Fitzgerald next week to win the region outright. It would be Thomasville’s first region title since 2007. Brooks County’s last was 2015. Thomasville leads the series 13-8. This is the first time that they’ve met when both were in the Top 10 of the AJC poll. Thomasville’s offense – which ranks third in Class AA scoring (46.0 points per game) – is balanced. The yardage leaders are QB J.T. Rice (1,486 passing, 16 TDs), RB Ben Tillman (541 rushing, eight TDs), RB Tan Gelin (528 rushing, seven TDs) and sophomore WR Kevin Cochran (563 receiving, six TDs). The best all-around player is Charlie Thomas (28 solo tackles, 436 all-purpose yards). Thomas is committed to Georgia Tech. Brooks County hangs its hat on defense. The Trojans are allowing 7.4 points (third-best in AA) and only 82.5 total yards per game. They have allowed only one rushing touchdown. On offense, their yardage leaders are QB Mac Perry (705 yards passing, seven TDs), RB Jonathan White (497 rushing, eight TDs) and Deon Fountain (464 receiving, five TDs).
Maxwell’s Projection: Brooks County by 8
*Game capsule courtesy of GHSFD

***

Friday’s game between the Thomasville Bulldogs and Brooks County Trojans is what late-season high school football is all about. Both teams enter the game undefeated and the region championship is at stake. The Bulldogs, led by second-year coach Zach Grage, are 8-0 for the first time since 1988. The 7-0 Trojans, under Maurice Freeman, who’s in his tenth season with the Trojans, are off to their best start since 2012, when they won their first 12 games.

For the Bulldogs, it’s been a season for the ages so far. They opened the season 2-0 for the first time since 1989 by beating both Cairo and Thomas County Central in the same season for the first time since 1991. Their field goal kicker, Carl Blackmore, twice broke the school record for longest field goal — he booted field goals of 53 and 57 yards — and quarterback J.T. Rice set the school record for single-game passing yards with 428.

There’s a winning culture in Thomasville under Grage, who came to the Bulldogs in 2016 after serving as Colquitt County’s offensive coordinator for six years, including during the Packers’ back-to-back 15-0 seasons in ’14 and ’15. In his first season with Thomasville, he righted the ship with a 5-5 record and a playoff appearance after the Bulldogs went 1-8 the year before. One of those 2016 wins was against Brooks County, which snapped a six-game losing streak to the Trojans.

The Bulldogs won 32-13, though the Trojans are an 8-point favorite at home this season. For Thomasville to beat the Trojans back-to-back seasons for the first time since ’09-’10, Grage knows it will take a near-perfect effort.

“They’ll be the most aggressive, flying-around defense we’ve faced this season,” Grage said. “They’re not a read-and-react type. They’ll be shooting the gaps and getting into the backfield, because coach Freeman does a great job of understanding that this game is played with high school kids, and if you force them into making quick decisions, they could make mistakes.”

Grage said to keep the Trojans’ defense on its toes, the Bulldogs will have to stick to their balanced attack.

“We just have to do what we do,” said Grage, “which is to play fast and play within our scheme.”

Trojans senior Ce’darius Arnold, who plays slot receiver, running back and defensive back, knows that defensively, his unit has to be ready for quick Thomasville strikes.

“They love to come out with the deep ball,” Arnold said. “They like being up on a team and having you play catch-up and taking the momentum, then controlling the game…We just have to do the things we’re coached to do because their quarterback will look you off and buy time and he’ll pick you apart if you don’t.”

Speaking of quarterbacks, the Trojans will have Mac Perry behind center for this season’s matchup. Perry suffered an early season-ending injury last year and wasn’t available for the Thomasville game. Perry, who is a dual-threat, will help in facilitating the Trojans against a solid Thomasville defense.

“We’ve got to pick up blitzes and do what we normally do,” Freeman said. “If we can get close to 200 yards rushing and 150-200 yards passing then we’ll be right where we need to be with our numbers.”

One of Thomasville’s best defenders, senior safety Charlie Thomas, said they’ll key in on the running aspect of the Trojans’ offense.

“If we stop the run, I feel like we stop the offense,” Thomas said. “Basically, what they do is run and then their other plays are off the run, like screens and hitches to keep you honest. But they mostly run the ball.”

Though the Trojans are averaging 49 points against Region 1 opponents, it’s the defense that gives teams the most headaches. They have four shutouts that have come against AAA’s Cook (21-0), Pierce County (31-0) and Monroe (49-0) and region opponent Early County (49-0).

For the Trojans, it’s simple: win this game and win the region. But if the Bulldogs win, they’ll still have to beat Fitzgerald to claim the region. Beating the Purple Hurricane is no simple task now that quarterback James Graham is healthy, and if they beat Thomasville it could create a three-way tie at the top. Both Grage and Freeman agree the tie-breaker is record against non-region opponents, with a points system awarding teams based on wins against higher classifications.

The tiebreaker becomes muddy mostly thanks to Albany leaving the region a few months ahead of the football season. It wasn’t clear if Albany would remain in 1-AA another school year or not and the rest of Region 1 had to wait on an official announcement before reworking their football schedules. Once it was announced, 1-AA teams scrambled to find replacement games and the Bulldogs found one in Florida’s Chiles, which is why they played a non-region game last week in the middle of 1-AA play. Brooks County, however, was unable to find a suitable opponent that aligned with its schedule and thus will only play nine games in the regular season.

Chiles is an AAAAAAA school, but is in Florida, so the question becomes: Does a Florida opponent count toward the points system should it come to a three-way tie? Freeman believes it wouldn’t count, but Grage believes it would.

“That’s something we’d have to discuss but I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Grage said.

The odds of it coming to that are slim, with the most-likely outcome being that the winner of Friday’s game takes home the 1-AA hardware.

“I definitely think this is the region title game,” Freeman said. “It’s a big one for this area and I’m sure the stands will be full on both sides. There’s a 28-mile difference between these schools and the fans are already talking a lot of noise. It’s a huge rivalry game and it’s going to be exciting. …I expect a fast-paced, hard-hitting game with the ball in the air quite a bit.”

“I expect it to be a hard-fought battle with everyone giving it their all and us coming out on top,” Arnold said.

Naturally, Thomas envisions an outcome opposite of Arnold’s.

“The clock running to zero and knowing we won,” Thomas said when asked what he was most looking forward to from this game.

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