"I'm just so proud of this football team," Thomas County Central coach Ed Pilcher said. "They've worked their tails off. And that carrot is getting a little closer."
Trailing 14-0 at the half, McNair found out right away that their chances of a road win were remote when Central took the second-half kickoff and set out on an 85-yard, six-play scoring drive, Moses Cochran leading the way, capping the drive with a two-yard plunge to make it 21-0.
After Central's defense rose up once more, forcing a punt, it only took Central two plays to put it away, thanks to a 46-yard burst up the middle by Mark Garland, who rushed for 113 yards, off the bench.
Though McNair broke the shutout with about three minutes to go in the third quarter, Donovan Wilkins catching a 15-yard TD pass from Clint Parks, it was way too little, way too late.
Central's defense was rewarded for a wonderful night early in the fourth quarter after a great Hunter Harper punt stuck McNair inside their own five-yard-line.
On first down, the trio of Ben Williams, Antonio Spears and Ryan Rice sacked Parks in his own end zone for a safety, making it a 30-7 lead. Garland broke one for 20 yards on the next series to make it 37-7.
The Yellow Jackets dodged what could have been a costly gaffe right off the bat at the opening of the game. After forcing a McNair punt, Central's Brandon Walden attempted to field a wobbly punt in heavy traffic. Sure enough, McNair recovered at the Central 33. But, in the biggest game of the season — so far — the defensive line rose up and threw McNair back, stopping running back Andrew Varner for a one-yard loss on first down, then Antonio Spears sacked quarterback Clint Parks for a five-yard loss on second down.
After an incomplete pass on third down, Central forced a pooch kick and took over at its own 5-yard-line.
Neither team could move it for the rest of the opening quarter and the Central defense really set the offense up with its first stand of the second quarter.
McNair took over at its own 13 after a Central drive narrowly stalled. Here, Pilcher's plunderers really rose to the occasion, with another terrific Spears' sack, pulling down Parks at the four-yard line.
The punt carried only to the McNair 34, and it was the opportunity Central was hoping for. After four runs, Moses Cochran burst down the left sideline and carried it 20 yards for the game's first touchdown. Jonatan Abarca added the PAT to make it 7-0 Central with 5:57 to play in the half.
McNair tried to look to 6-foot-5 end Klein Hall on the next series, but a terrific last-second tip by Brandon Walden batted the ball down.
On third down, Ben Williams got huge sack, knocking the ball back to the McNair 29. When the punt carried only to the 43, the Yellow Jackets had 3:21 to find a way to the end zone. And in eight plays, taking 2:28, the Jackets moved the ball down the field, including two key pass completions to Jordee Williford on a third-and-three, then to Derrick Lovejoy to move the ball inside the 10.
On first down at the 10, QB Erik Walden dropped back, found a seam and darted 10 yards for the second score of the game. With Abarca's kick, it was 14-0.
At 13-0, two games from a state title and an undefeated season, the Jackets head north to the Georgia Dome. It should really be something to see.
This story first appeared in the Thomasville Times-Enterprise.