ATLANTA - Thomson High School coach Luther Welsh gave his star running back, Demarco McNair, a big hug before the two walked into the locker room.
WHO: Thomas County Central (14-0) at Thomson (14-0)
WHERE: The Brickyard in Thomson
WHAT: Class AAAA state championship game
WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
TICKETS: $10 general admission, $13 for reserved seats. Tickets are available in the Thomson High School front office.
ON TV: The game will be broadcast live on Georgia Public Television (Comcast Channel 3).
For McNair, the embrace was well-deserved. He scored two touchdowns and rushed for 144 yards in No. 1 Thomson's 27-10 defeat of Shaw in the Class AAAA semifinals in the Georgia Dome on Saturday night.
Now, the Bulldogs (14-0) will play host to Thomas County Central (14-0) - a 35-34 overtime winner over Marist last Friday night - in the Class AAAA state championship game in the Brickyard this Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The game will be televised live on Georgia Public Television.
"The whole experience is big for us," Welsh said. "I'm sure all the excitement here will carry back home Friday night."
On Friday, the Bulldogs face a Yellow Jackets team scoring 36.4 points a game. Thomson and Thomas County Central had one common opponent this season - Ware County. The Yellow Jackets knocked off Ware County, 31-28, and the Bulldogs defeated the Gators, 51-35.
Thomson is playing for its first state title in 17 years. Welsh led the Bulldogs to Class AAA championships in 1984 and 1985. Thomson also won state titles in 1967 and 1968.
Defense is what has the Bulldogs playing for a fifth state title. Thomson entered Saturday's game allowing 9.1 points a game. The Bulldogs allowed only one opponent, Ware County, to score more than 14 points all season.
Thomson's defense was just as tough against Shaw. The Bulldogs sacked Raiders quarterback Terrance Moore five times and intercepted him twice. Thomson also held Shaw to 43 yards rushing on 29 attempts.
"We were very prepared for this game," senior linebacker Danny Verdun said. "We broke down film this week. We knew what they wanted to do when they lined up."
Thomson led 14-3 after McNair's second touchdown run of the game early in the fourth quarter. Then Verdun made the Bulldogs' biggest play of the game.
Shaw's Anthony Merritt lost 20 yards on a reverse, giving the Raiders a third-and-28 from its own 1-yard line. Then, Moore pitched to a running back who wasn't prepared for it.
The ball hit the turf and bounced into Verdun's hands. From the 1, he plowed in for the score.
Shaw (12-2), the Region 2-AAAA champion, immediately struck back, scoring on a Moore-to-Merritt 79-yard screen pass. The Raiders were still in the game, trailing by 11 with 9:42 remaining.
"I thought we played very well," Thomson defensive coordinator John Barnett said. "I was disappointed we gave up that touchdown."
That touchdown would be the last one for the Raiders. Stanquan Rogers and Demerius Mathis intercepted two Moore passes down the stretch, and Thomson's Deon Palmer scored on a 12-yard run to ice the game.
The win gave the 70-year-old Welsh his first inside the Georgia Dome.
"This has never happened to me before - winning a game in the Dome," Welsh said. "This is a first for all of us."
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