Thomas County Central stings Upson-Lee

THOMASVILLE -- They can smell it. And it ain't turkey. <P>The Thomas County Central Yellow Jackets rolled to their 12th straight win of the 2002 season, a 37-0 stomping of Upson-Lee on a chilly Friday night, moving within three wins of a state title and a perfect season.

Do you dare even say those words: "Perfect season"?

When you're 12-0 and have just recorded your fourth shutout of the season you do -- but only in passing. With McNair (39-20 winners over Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe) coming to town next Friday night to determine which team goes to the Georgia Dome, this is no time to look way ahead. Just to next week. It's an approach that has worked wonders for the Yellow Jackets this season and coach Ed Pilcher isn't about to change now.

"We just wanted to come out and play a solid football game," Pilcher said. "We reminded them that Upson-Lee was on a roll. We reminded them we didn't have to play over our heads. As long as we keep that carrot dangling in front of them," he said. "That prize is still there. And we're still trying to get there."

And after a couple of shaky performances by the defense, it was a great time for a shutout.

"Our defense has played really well," Pilcher said. "I thought we had a shot at doing this. I wasn't sure we could shut them out, but I thought we could slow them down some and put them in a situation where they had to throw the ball. We felt good about it."

The Yellow Jackets salted this one with a ruthless second half, scoring on its first two possessions after already assuming a 16-0 first-half advantage.

Central's diversified offense was the key to success. A 24-yard pass completion to Brandon Walden, a 19-yard burst around the right side by David Dawson and an 11-yard scoring crunch up the middle by Moses Cochran ran the score to 23-0.

After McDaniel fumbled a thunderous Hunter Harper punt, Russell Orr recovered it at the Upson-Lee 17-yard-line. A 14-yard pass completion to Brandon Walden (Yes, he played defense, too), set up Dawson, who plunged in from a yard out to stretch the score to 30-0.

Central added another score in the early moments of the fourth quarter -- Moses Cochran diving in from a yard out. With the kick, it was 37-0.

The Yellow Jackets got themselves on the board first on a nicely executed 12-play, 56-yard drive, all on the ground, capped by a one-yard Cochran plunge.

The key play was a 12-yard Erik Walden run, capped with a 15-yard late-hit call on Upson-Lee, to position the Jackets inside the 25.

On first down, Pilcher called for a surprise bomb to Brandon Walden. Though B. Walden was open, Erik Walden overthrew him. After Ben Williams came up with a big third-down sack to force Upson-Lee to punt, Central got the back at midfield and on first down, Walden burst through the right side of the line, found another gear and raced all the way to the Upson-Lee six-yard line.

Cochran brought it to the one-yard-line, and David Dawson plunged in to make it 13-0. Jonatan Abarca's PAT try hit the goal post.

Upson-Lee responded with the Knights' best drive of the night, quarterback Fred Bussey finding some running room around either end. He and tailback Antroun McDaniel drove the ball to the Central 17-yard-line, first-and-10.

Upson-Lee coach Mike Majors risked a sideline pass to Cameron Searcy, but Central's Brandon Walden intercepted the toss, thereby ending their drive.

"(Upson-Lee) got in a situation there where it was long yardage, and they tried to make it up on one play," Pilcher said. "That was big right there. That was big for us."

After an exchange of punts, Central recovered the ball with 1:20 to go and Pilcher turned up the heat. With Cole Grier, David Dawson and Brandon Walden working the sideline with Erik Walden, Central whisked the ball downfield.

Though Walden missed connecting with a wide-open Cole Grier on a second-and-one at the 22, he recovered by a pass by Brandon Walden on third down to set up a 29-yard Abarca field goal, increasing the score to 16-0 as time expired. Upson-Lee never got any closer.

This story first appeared in the Thomasville Times-Enterprise.

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