MILLEDGEVILLE — Thomas County Central will have to wait another year to capture its first playoff victory since 2016. Even a 17-point lead and a 12-point advantage over the Baldwin Braves Saturday afternoon in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs was not enough to propel the Yellow Jackets, who were in the postseason for the first time in Ashley Henderson's tenure as head coach.
But the Braves overcame two early turnovers, including an interception return for a touchdown by Central defensive back Deshaun Lovejoy, rallied from a 12-point second-half deficit and held off the Yellow Jackets for a 36-30 victory.
Baldwin will play in the second round next week. Central's season ends with a 4-5 record.
The Yellow Jackets played without Henderson on the sidelines for the second straight game as he was forced to quarantine because of COVID-19.
The Yellow Jackets started strong despite the absence of their head coach. They forced two turnovers on the Braves' first three drives, capped by Lovejoy's 40-yard touchdown return that gave the Yellow Jackets a 17-0 lead. Central also forced a fumble that gave the Yellow Jackets possession at the Baldwin 15. It led to a field goal from Central's Hector Rodriguez.
After the Braves responded with 18 straight points to lead at halftime, the Yellow Jackets countered with two scores in the third quarter; a halfback pass from D.J. Walden to Adam Hopkins that covered 26 yards, and quarterback Tyler Floyd later scrambled for a 6-yard touchdown to give the Yellow Jackets a 30-18 lead.
The Braves' offense was too much, however, racking up 438 yards, including 266 through the air. Baldwin finished with four touchdown passes.
After Lovejoy's interception in the first half, the Braves slowly made up the difference with three straight scoring drives of 76, 50 and 52 yards. Baldwin also scored on three straight drives in the second half.
Baldwin won despite missing five point-after conversions and one two-point conversion.