THOMASVILLE — Football is part mind game and Thomasville coach Leroy Ryals isn’t falling for this week’s bout.
The Bulldogs (6-4, 5-1 1-AA) will face Benedictine (8-2, 5-1 2-AA) Friday night at Savannah State University in the first round of the GHSA AA state playoffs. Following their final regular season victory, Cadets coach Danny Britt made sure to give credit where credit is due when speaking about the Thomasville team, telling the Savannah Morning News, “I really believe when God created football, he did it in Thomasville.”
On the surface it’s a kind thing to say, especially since Britt grew up in Camilla, but Ryals knows better.
“He’s not going to fool me on that one, because they do a great job over there. They do a tremendous job of football over there,” Ryals said Wednesday afternoon. “They got an all-boys school, a military school, so you know they got discipline. They’re tough kids and they’re coached well. He can’t pull that trick on my eyes right there, I’ll tell ya that.”
“Trying to make us ... in a good way, being real respectful of our area, which we do have good football out here, but they got good football too as well. You can tell,” he said. “Some of it’s being respectful, some of it’s being very modest on his part. The reality of it is, they’ve got a great, a very good football team, too.”
Benedictine is averaging 46.7 points per game, heavily aided by its final three games of 70, 63 and 62 points. In those three region games against Groves, McIntosh Academy and Long County, the Cadets ran up a combined 155-0 score at the half. Their two losses — an opener against Greater Atlanta Christian and a region game against Vidalia (10-0, 7-0 2-AA) — were by a combined 10 points.
They’re also a team of playoff pros, reaching their fourth straight playoff berth. In all four years, they lost in the first round. But at this point in the season, playoff experience may not be all it’s cracked up to be.
“When you get this far, most teams you have to play in the playoffs have playoff experience,” Ryals said. “So, I don’t know if that’s an issue at all. If you look at our schedule, all of our non-region games, all those teams made the playoffs. Of course, our Region 1-AA is pretty good. (There are) two or three teams in the top 10, so we’ve played some pretty stiff competition to get to this. We just have to go out and play well and play well enough to win.”
Ryals and this group of veteran Bulldogs have playoff experience too, reaching the second round last season. They moved to round two with a 45-20 win over Westside (Augusta). They fell to Lamar County, 38-20 in the second round. It’s the same team Benedictine fell to in the first round, 10-7. The Trojans (Region 4-AA) went on to the state final game, but lost to Lovett, 14-7.
The winner of this game will play the winner of Chattooga (No. 4 seed out of Region 7) vs. Rabun County (No. 1 seed out of Region 8).