THOMASVILLE — After Karey Lee returned a punt 40 yards for a score the first time Thomasville High School touched the football, Jay Tillman had a few words to say to his teammates on the sideline.
"I just feel like tonight is going to be a good night," Tillman said.
It was, indeed, for Thomasville as the team celebrated Senior Night on a chilly November evening.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 35-point lead in the first half and never looked back en route to a 56-3 rout of Early County Friday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium. The victory secured the third seed from Region 1-2A and will send the Bulldogs to Hephzibah for the first round of the Georgia High School Association Class 2A state playoffs next week.
Thomasville (6-4, 2-2 Region 1-2A) played perhaps its best game of the season and left everyone feeling good heading into the postseason. They scored on the ground, through the air, returned a punt for a score and blocked an Early County punt and recovered the ball in the end zone for a score.
"We thought we were missing that guy (this year) to kind of help carry us," Thomasville coach Zach Grage said. "But I was wrong. What we were missing was our swagger. And we brought it back tonight. We had a great week of practice coming off an off week and even though it was still week 10 (of the regular season), we treated this game as a playoff game.”
And Lee set the tone with an early score .
After the Bulldogs forced Early County to go three-and-out on its opening possession, Lee caught the punt on the run and scampered 40 yards for a touchdown at the 10:28 mark of the first quarter.
He then halted an Early drive when he intercepted a pass and returned it 30 yards, which eventually led to Tan Gelin's 4-yard touchdown plunge. After Hurston Waldrep's extra-point attempt, Thomasville led 14-0 with 6:08 left in the first quarter.
Quarterback Chad Mascoe fired a 27-yard touchdown pass to Lee with 46 seconds left in the opening quarter to make it 21-0.
But Thomasville wasn't done scoring.
Ronald Smith blocked an Early punt that rolled into the end zone and was recovered by Ma'lek Miller to make it 28-0.
Then the Bulldogs took a commanding 35-0 advantage with 1:03 left in the first half when Mascoe tossed a 22-yard strike to Payten Singletary. It was the first of two touchdown catches of the night for Singletary, who hauled in a 25-yarder late in the third quarter.
Early County (6-4, 2-2), which finished as the region's No. 4 seed and will travel to Region 4-2A champion Jefferson County next week, scored its only points with 15 seconds left on a 23-yard field goal from Alex Warr.
It didn't take long for Thomasville to score in the second half and put the game out of reach.
Waldrep, an all-state pitcher on the baseball team, helped set up Thomasville's first score of the second half. The junior kicker lined up for a 43-yard field goal attempt but instead, took the snap and found Sammy Morrow behind the coverage in the secondary on a 22-yard pass to set up the Bulldogs at the 5-yard line. Morrow likely would have scored, but he stumbled trying to catch the pass.
"We worked on that play all week and we knew we were going to run that play," Singletary said. "Then they lined up the right way and we just ran it.”
After a penalty, Ricardo Johnson caught an 11-yard touchdown from Mascoe to make it 42-3.
Devon Samuel added a 1-yard touchdown plunge at the 4:41 mark of the fourth quarter to complete the scoring.
"This one felt good," Singletary said. "I've been with these seniors for three years and it's kind of sad them playing their last game at home. At least they went out with a good win."
And some swagger heading into the playoffs.