THOMASVILLE — In the span of 96 seconds, Thomasville went from having a comfortable lead to seeing its season hang tenuously in the balance.
Dodge County junior Daylon Gordon, who made plays in all three phases, and Noah Cummings put the Bulldogs on the brink with touchdowns in that short time.
But the Bulldogs responded quickly and eventually hung on for a wild 31-26 Class AA first-round state playoff win over the Indians on Friday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“That’s what we expected coming into it,” Bulldogs coach Zach Grage said of the close game. “This is the best 4 seed in the tournament, I promise you.”
Gordon shot through the Bulldogs defense for a 93-yard scoring run, breaking two tackles near the line of scrimmage. His touchdown cut the Thomasville lead to 17-14. Three plays later, Cummings scooped up a Bulldog fumble and rambled 13 yards for a go-ahead score.
Less than a minute and half later though, Ronnie Baker hit Rico Johnson for the first of their two second-half touchdown connections, this one for 42 yards with 1:54 to go in the third quarter.
“We know we can go and score. We know we can go and win,” Grage said. "It’s not that we scored but how we scored, with Rico making the big catch and Ronnie making a big throw — our dudes have to be dudes, and our ballers have to be ballers.”
Johnson snared a Baker pass for a 15-yard TD pass over an Indian defender, capping an eight-play, 79-yard drive that stretched Thomasville’s lead back to two scores.
“He does that every day in practice,” Grage said of Johnson’s last score.
But Gordon struck again to tighten the game. He bolted 57 yards on the next Indian series to bring Dodge County with 31-26 with 5:19 remaining.
“For the most part, they did a great job tackling (Gordon),” Grage said of his defense.
He also lauded his counterpart and the Dodge County coaching staff.
"Ken Cofer and his crew did an unbelievable job," Grage said.
Thomasville milked 3:20 off the clock on their next possession and held on downs to finish off the win.
Hurston Waldrep’s 24-yard field goal late in the first quarter, played in a chilly mist, put the Bulldogs up 3-0. Gordon — who also had three tackles for a loss on defense — took the ensuing kickoff back 81 yards to the Bulldogs 7. He scored on the next play, and Dodge County took a 7-3 lead.
Boomer Slocumb and Johnson each made big catches for 30-yard-plus yard gains, leading to Ricky Fulton’s 1-yard run.
Baker, 13-of-26 for 209 yards, found Johnson for 28 yards and a touchdown on the next possession.
Thomasville (7-4) will host Pepperell, a 27-7 winner over Heard County, next Friday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Grage said there is are a couple of keys to how his team twice shook off deficits and battled past Dodge County to advance to the second round.
“It’s all the kids and them executing,” he said. “When you look into each other’s eyes, it’s the love they have for this game, the love they have for this team and for this community. That’s what carries us on.”