THOMASVILLE — The chants from the boisterous student section rang down on Rabun County quarterback Gunner Stockton throughout Friday night’s game, as they serenaded him with “overrated!” from start to finish.
The most tangible pressure, though, came from a relentless pass rush on the nation’s No. 1 sophomore quarterback prospect.
Stockton showed the arm strength and mobility that have him so highly-regarded — he completed 16 of 24 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns to go with runs of 59, 17, 14, 12, 12 and 10 yards. But the Bulldogs defense hit him for a loss 10 times, and nearly each one had an impact in Thomasville’s 38-24 Class AA state quarterfinal victory.
“It starts on Sunday,” Thomasville coach Zach Grage said.
That’s when the Bulldogs get together to start their game-week planning. Grage told his players about his time a decade ago at Colquitt County when the Packers faced Lassiter and record-setting quarterback Hutson Mason. They beat the Trojans 46-17.
“It takes you a little bit to get used to that caliber of player,” Grage said.
Against Stockton, the Bulldogs’ first tackle for a loss came on the second series. That forced a Rabun County punt.
After Cary Keller’s 54-yard sprint on a Stockton pass helped put the Wildcats at the Thomasville 8-yard line, the Bulldogs sacked Stockton twice more, the second one inducing a fumble the defense recovered at the THS 14.
Another sack, followed by a penalty, meant Stockton’s 17-yard third-down scramble later in the second quarter came up short.
Thomasville ended Rabun County’s initial possession of the second half with a sack, and Stockton was brought down for a 4-yard loss on the next drive. The Wildcats missed the ensuing 45-yard field goal attempt on the next snap.
“They’ve got a really good defensive line,” Rabun County coach Jaybo Shaw, who played quarterback at Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern, said of the Bulldogs. "Their defense is very athletic. We had a hard time blocking them in the pass game, which we knew going in we had our hands full.”
Kevin Andrews and Dimitrius Myrick combined for a 6-yard loss of Stockton, and three plays later, Michael Major picked off a Stockton pass.
The only sack that didn't deter the Wildcats from scoring was a 4-yard loss late in the third quarter. That drive ended with a Stockton 10-yard pass to Keller.
But with Thomasville hanging on to its 14-point lead late in the fourth quarter, the defense brought Stockton down behind the line on three consecutive plays, with Jashawun Thornton, Payten Singletary, Myrick, Ty Anderson and Trey Madison each having a hand in a sack.
“If you look back at the beginning of the season. our DBs were having to cover for four seconds because we weren’t getting a pass rush up front,” Grage said. “We’ve flipped the script on that.”
Thomasville also was without two of its top corners, Bo Mascoe and Joseph Williams, against Rabun County. Jamie Williams and Stefon Henderson were pressed into service in their stead in Grage’s “next man up” mentality.
“We’ve got good kids,” Grage said, "and karma is a big thing right now.”
Editor Pat Donahue can be reached at (229) 226-2400 ext. 1806.