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Thomasville hopes for different result

Thomasville's Gabe Brockett follows his blockers toward the end zone against Lexington on Oct. 26 at Cushwa Stadium. (Photo by Mike Duprez/The Dispatch)

Lincolnton ruined Thomasville’s hopes for a trip to yet another state championship game last November.

The Bulldogs will get a shot at redemption Friday night.

With a pair of upset wins in the first round of the 2-A state playoffs, Thomasville hosts the Wolves at Cushwa Stadium at 7:30 p.m. in an unexpected second-round matchup. It’s a rematch of last year’s fourth-round matchup in Lincolnton, which the Wolves won 26-0.

Neither fan base probably saw this coming. Consider: Thomasville started the season 0-6, and didn’t look like the typical team the Bulldogs run on to the field every Friday night. Lincolnton had to replace its star quarterback and fullback, keys to its triple-option flexbone offense, and sputtered to a 2-5 start out of the gate.

But here they are, with one of them set to move on to the third round of the playoffs, a couple of steps shy of a state title. While Thomasville struggled mightily early, before rebounding to finish the regular season 4-7 and claim second place in the Central Carolina Conference, that’s a little easier to understand now. Four of Thomasville’s six nonconference opponents were 4-A foes, and of the seven teams that beat the Bulldogs this season, all but one — High Point Central — is still alive in the state playoffs.

Gabe Brockett, a senior running back who converted from the defensive side of the ball after last season, has been a huge factor in the Bulldogs’ late surge. He has been the focal point of Thomasville’s offense, and he’s responded. In the last two weeks, Brockett has carried 93 times for 800 yards and nine touchdowns. That’s not a bad month for most running backs.

His 367-yard, four touchdown effort lifted the Bulldogs to a 27-24 come-from-behind win at Maiden last Friday in the playoff opener. Getting back on the winning side of things has everyone breathing a little easier in the Chair City. “It was a very exciting, emotionally tough, physically tough game,” Thomasville assistant coach Dickie Cline said. “It’s what you expect in the playoffs.

“Both teams laid it all on the line. They were very good, but we played our hearts out and came through.”

Lincolnton coach Scott Cloninger, whose team upended Wilkes Central 41-21 in its playoff opener, knows exactly what to expect this week from Thomasville. “A lotta Brockett, how’s that?,” Cloninger said with a chuckle. “I’ve been watching him on film, and he’s an exceptional running back.”

Last year, when Thomasville travelled to Lincolnton in the semifinals, the Bulldogs were riding Quanny Johnson’s legs for all they were worth. But the Wolves held Johnson to 62 yards on 21 carries, completely taking Thomasville out of its comfort zone.

Lincolnton, meanwhile, piled up 348 yards on the ground, and Shrine Bowl-bound fullback Dee Littlejohn bulldozed his way for 151 yards and two touchdowns. Cloninger said those days are long gone, however; the Wolves only returned four starters from that team: three offensive lineman and one defensive starter. It showed early on, as Lincolnton faced a schedule that nearly matched Thomasville’s, and the Wolves took their lumps. Cloninger inserted freshman Jordon Easter at quarterback, and the results have been impressive. The Wolves have won five in a row and ran their way to third place in the Southern Piedmont Conference.

Easter ran for 92 yards and three touchdowns last week against Wilkes Central, and junior running back Justice Whitesides had 104 yards on 24 carries. Cline said the Wolves’ ground game most closely resembles that of Salisbury, which won the CCC with its typical bruising triple-option running game.

Both teams will certainly hope to establish the run early and often. Cline knows, for his team to be successful, Brockett will have to continue to shine. “He’s a football player, and he’s gonna play his guts out no matter where he plays,” Cline said. “So far, he’s done a fantastic job, as well as the offensive line.”

Cloninger knows if his team has a chance for a repeat victory over the Bulldogs, a repeat effort is required from the defense.

“We’ve preached all week long, we’ve got to get 11 people to the ball,” he said. “He can outrun you, he can run over you.

“I just like the way, when he gets to the defender, he just lowers that shoulder and those hands. That’s the way a running back should run. We’ve told our people, one can’t tackle him and four or five can’t catch him. So you’d better all of you get there if you can.”

Jason Queen can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 220 or