THOMASVILLE — Behind standout quarterback Gunner Stockton, the Rabun County Wildcats entered Friday night’s Class AA quarterfinal averaging nearly 490 yards and 51 points per game.
The Thomasville Bulldogs defense, however, dulled the Rabun County’s offense deadly claws.
Stockton, widely regarded as the state’s top quarterback prospect, was held to 14-of-31 passing for 160 yards and the Wildcats were held to their second-lowest point total of the season in Thomasville’s convincing 49-24 victory.
Stockton had been averaging 331 yards passing per game and completing 74% of his throws prior to Friday night.
The key, according to senior linebacker Ty Anderson, was simple.
“We played Thomasville ball,” he said. “That’s it. We played Thomasville ball.”
Thomasville held Rabun County to 2-of-11 on third-down conversions. The defense also sacked Stockton five times — with four of those coming on successive snaps at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth.
“We knew they had an active defensive line,” saiid Wildcats coach Jaybo Shaw. “Ty Anderson is one of the best linebackers, if not the best, we’ve played all year. I think it was a mixture of being behind the sticks so many times and us having to throw the ball and getting out of our rhythm a little bit. They fly around to the football and they’re well coached. We got whipped tonight.”
Stockton also was pressured on numerous other occasions. Though he didn’t throw an interception — he finished his senior season with just one — Stockton faced a constant and unrelenting pass rush. The Bulldogs forced a fumble from Stockton on a sack.
Thomasville did it without blitzing.
“It wasn’t a bunch of blitzes,” Bulldogs coach Zach Grage said. “It was a bunch of D linemen playing their rear ends off. It was a bunch of defensive backs playing their rear ends off and fighting through adversity.”
The Bulldogs’ shifting of their defensive front as the play clock dwindled also confounded the Wildcats. Rabun County was called nine times for illegal procedure.
“We knew they were going to stem and do that on third down,” Shaw said. “We didn’t handle our composure In a big game like this, on the road, in a tough environment, you can’t get behind the sticks like that and have to throw the ball that many times. It was unfortunate we didn’t have a little better composure at those times.”