Albany High QB Emmanul Byrd tries to shake free from the pressure of the Thomasville defense Thursday night during their tough 35-20 loss. (Hubby Brooks/Thomasville Times-Enterprise).
THOMASVILLE -- Ouch, this one hurt.
The only question left is how long will Albany High's 35-20 loss to Thomasville linger?
If the Indians are going to make it to the postseason they're going to have to rebound from this one and knock off a couple of state-ranked teams to get there.
That's how costly the loss was.
It left Albany (4-3 overall) at 1-2 in the Region 1-AA race. That wouldn't be so bad if the region wasn't crammed with some of the best AA teams in Georgia. Fitzgerald, Cook and Brooks County are all ranked n the Top 10 in the state, and Thomasville isn't far behind.
The Indians have already lost to Fitzgerald and now to the Bulldogs. They need to win four games to open the door to the postseason, and that means winning all of their final three games. They get a bye week to regroup and then jump into the fire Oct. 21 against Brooks County. They face Early County the following week and meet Cook on the final Friday of the regular season.
That's a tough gauntlet for anyone to run through, but the Indians have looked like a playoff team this season, and played Thomasville tough, but couldn't catch a break.
"It's clean, cut and dry. We've got to win all three of them,'' Albany High coach Felton Williams said after the game. "This is our playoffs.''
It's that simple.
"We've got it in our hands. We have to take it,'' said Albany quarterback Emmanul Byrd, who completed 12-of-22 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked four times for minus 20 yards, but still managed to gain 34 yards on nine carries.
"We have to win. We have to do it,'' Byrd added. "Nobody's going to give you the playoffs. In this region it comes hard, but we have to get it.''
Life would have been much easier with a win against Thomasville, but the Bulldogs took advantage of every opportunity and quarterback Devante Jones had a monster night. The Indians simply couldn't stop him, and that was never more evident than on Thomasville's final scoring drive when Jones gained every yard of a three-play 51-yard TD drive and danced into the end zone with 1:47 left to lift Thomasville to a 35-14 cushion.
Jones ran for 156 yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns, and also completed 6-of-12 passes for 121 yards and a TD.
Albany trailed, 14-0, at halftime, but could have easily gone to the break at 0-0. Thomasville's first touchdown came after a close call on a fourth-and-one play at the Albany 4-yard-line. It appeared the Indians had stopped Thomasville's Chris Rainey just short of the first down, but when officials measured the play, the tip of the football was touching the first down marker.
Jones scored moments later on a 1-yard run with 37 seconds left in the first quarter to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead. Things stayed right there until the final seconds of the first half when Jones made the play of the night. Thomasville faced a fourth-and-15 at the Albany 25-yard-line and gambled. Jones, who had completed three passes all night at that point, connected with Quintez Spear, who scored on the 25-yard TD pass with 42 seconds left.
Albany came right back and drove to the Thomasville 30, but Byrd's pass on the final play of the game before the half -- a 30-yard completion to Andrico Carter in the end zone -- was ruled to out of bounds. Albany's coaches were screaming for a pass interference call, but were told both players were shoving each other on the play. It was that close
Those three plays could have changed the game.
"I'll tell you why it was close,'' Thomasville coach Richie Marsh said. "Because that's a good team. Their coaching staff has done an unbelievable of turning them around. They are night and day from where they used to be, and it's because of the passion their coaches have. I knew it was coming.''
Thomasville (3-3 overall and 2-1 in region) built the 14-0 halftime lead into 21-0, and then held off Byrd, who completed 9-of-13 passes for 135 yards and two TDs in the second half.
Thomasville took advantage of a blocked punt and ended a short 40-yard drive with a 5-yard TD run from Spear to take a 21-0 lead with 6:32 left in the third. The Indians got on the board with a 15-yard TD run from Jauron Brown late in the third to close to 21-7.
Byrd then came up with his best play of the night, scrambling left then right then left again and stepping out of three tackles before firing a 25-yard TD pass to Rantiez Williams with 9:43 left in the game to close to 21-14. But Jones came back and scored on a 5-yard run with 6:05 left and iced it with his three-play 51 yard scoring drive late. Byrd came back one final time and hit Jeconiah Jackson with a 33-yard TD pass in the final minute to make it a 35-20 game.
Now the long road back begins for Albany
"We have to play better, and play a whole game,'' said Bryd's brother, Roscoe Byrd, a two-way lineman and Dynamite Dozen selection. "We have to come together and find a way to play better and win. We have to win. It's not about practice. When the lights come on Friday night that's when you have to do it.''
The lights are burning on Albany now.
"We put the pressure on ourselves,'' Albany's coach said. "We've got to tackle and we've got to block. It's a game we could have won, and should have won, but can't expect to win if you don't tackle.
"We have no excuses. We've got to win all three. I believe these kids can do it. They can do anything they want to do if they put their minds to it. It's not going to be easy. Our backs are against the wall. It's win or go home. Our playoffs begin right now.''
Stewart County beats Baconton, 22-14, keeps Blazers winless at 0-7
BACONTON -- Baconton Charter fell to 0-7 Thursday with a 22-14 loss to Stewart County.
Brock Pinson threw 12- and 11-yard touchdown passes to Zack Jones in the second and third quarters, and the Blazers recorded a safety with 30 seconds left in the contest to make it a one-possession game.
But after a long return on the kickoff after the safety, a Pinson Hail Mary fell to the ground in the end zone as the Blazers' losing streak rose to nine games dating back to last year.
"(The kids) played really hard. The effort was there and things were a little better this week," Baconton coach Glenn Palmer said. "We just have to keep our heads up and keep working."
Garrison Dykes was Baconton's leading rusher with 40 yards on five carries, while Pro West was the leading receiver with 23 yards on two catches.
Pinson was 5-for-18 and threw for 70 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.