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Much improved Toombs County Bulldogs here for Round Two

Standing at 10-1with a lone 28-14 loss to No. 1-ranked Benedictine, the veteran, red hot, 2AA runner-up Toombs County Bulldogs will come to Kelly Memorial Stadium Friday  looking to extend their deepest trip to the state playoffs since 2008.

Awaiting the Dawgs will be the 10-0 Region 4AA Champion Screven County Gamecocks of Ron Duncan who will be looking to reach the state quarterfinals for the second time in as many seasons.

Ticket prices are set at $10 by the GHSA and athletic booster passes will not be honored.

The winner of Friday night’s contest will matchup with the winner of Region 8AA champion Rabun County and Region 6AA runner-up B.E.S.T. Academy. The highest seed will host and a blanket GHSA coin toss will decide home field from among teams with the same seeding.

For Gamecock fans who may have watched the Paulson Stadium prequel to the SCHS-Bluffton matchup back on Aug. 19, this Toombs County team coming Friday night does not resemble the Toombs County team that barely defeated East Laurens 10-8 that day. 

That East Laurens team went on to go 0-10 and the eight points were their second highest offensive output of the season.

Following a resounding defeat of 0-10 Twiggs County, the Bulldogs continued to struggle early in the season as they defeated 4-7 Class A Telfair County 20-19. Still they reached 2AA competition on Sept. 22 at 3-0.

As for the Roosters who may have seen any of the game while awaiting the use of GSU dressing facilities, “That was so long ago it doesn't matter,” said Duncan. “They are a tough, physical, well-coached football team that plays hard.”

Once 2AA play began, Toombs put things together going 6-1 with their lone loss coming only 28-14 to No. 1 and defending state champion Benedictine.

They defeated intra-country rival and third-seeded Vidalia 26-7 and the trio of teams that finished tied for fourth -- Jeff Davis 38-14, Bacon County 20-14, and Swainsboro 32-22. 

The team finished the regular season tied for a 10th ranking in the GHSFD’s composite rankings which have the Gamecocks at third.

On Nov. 10, the Bulldogs proved themselves well worthy of their runner-up spot from the always tough Region 2AA with a come-from-behind win over preseason No. 2 Fitzgerald in a classic in The Pit in Lyons. 

Down 31-27 when the Hurricane scored with 5:37 remaining Toombs drove 62 yards in 12 plays, twice converting fourth downs, to score with 24 seconds remaining to win 34-31.

The winning 18-yard pass play came on a fourth down and long. 

“It was a good drive,” said Duncan. “They have a senior group of players that have been building toward this year.”

SCHS leads the series with TCHS by an 11-5 margin which dates back to just 1987, the first year of Toombs County High School as it was a consolidation of Lyons High School and Toombs Central. 

Lyons was, of course, the Bulldogs and Toombs Central never played football. SCHS won seven of the first eight, but of the last nine (there is some overlap) the teams have rotated wins. 

A season ago Toombs was here for the first round of the state playoffs and the Gamecocks were 35-9 winners. The game was much tougher than the score would indicate as the score was just 7-3 with under a minute to go in the first half before four Armani Bunbury TD passes, three to Tyquan Johnson, blew the game open. Bunbury was 12-18-1 for 274 yards. 

An obvious question to Duncan would have to be will his team remember the end result of last year’s contest or the early going? 

“Our kids will be focused on this year,” Duncan responded. “What happened last year doesn’t matter.”

Like the Gamecocks, the Bulldogs will feature a lot of returning veterans on both sides of the ball including their offensive backfield. 

Featured in the backfield are tailback Keshawn Morgan who rushed for 122 yards on 21 carries at Kelly Memorial last season and his backup Jeidon Sistrunk (5-7, 193) who was 11-52 in resting Morgan. Both also start on defense. 

Quarterback Dalton McBride (6-1, 170) is also a veteran as well with more than 1,000 combined rushing and passing yards in 2017. 

For the season, Morgan (6-0, 220) has picked up over 1,500 yards and scored 24 TDs, including five in the crucial regular season-ending win over Swainsboro. Duncan said, “He is a really good back. They have a great scheme and a great line to help him.”

Toombs will line up in several formations that resemble SCHS formations, however, they do not line up under center and the Roosters do not run a Stacked Pistol formation. They average better than 29 points per game, while allowing 15. 

A score by Fitzgerald in the first quarter marked only the second TD allowed by the Dawg defense in the first quarter all season long. The Dirty Bird defense has allowed one score in the first quarter all season long and that was the first possession of the season when Bluffton scored on the third play of the game.

In Sweet Sixteen matchups such as this, the Gamecocks are 4-7 overall and 4-5 at Kelly Memorial Stadium. Last season’s 28-20 win over Douglass-Atlanta ended a three-game losing streak on the home field (Pace Academy in 2015, Heard County in 2014, and Early County in 2012). 

Other wins at the local stadium were over Peach County in 2002, Mary Persons in 2001, and Elbert County in 1994. The Elbert win was the first round of the playoffs for that season and also represented the first-ever SCHS win in the state, not region, playoffs. Other losses at home came to Jackson in 2000 and Brooks County in 1998.

This will mark the third time the Roosters have played the same team in back-to-back seasons in the state playoffs. In 2002 and 2003, the Red and White defeated Jefferson County, while in 2002 and 2003 the locals split with Peach County. Between 1996 and 2001, SCHS and Dodge County played four times including 1999-2001 with the Gamecocks taking three of those four.