Gamble proves costly to Bulldogs

THOMASVILLE | Dickie Cline wasn’t at a craps table at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. He was at Cushwa Stadium in Thomasville.

The Thomasville offensive coordinator still rolled the dice.

They say the house wins a majority of the time. In this case the “house” was visiting Fort Chiswell.

Fort Chiswell’s Patrick Biedleman returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown with 12 seconds left in the first half, lifting the visiting undefeated Pioneers to a 21-17 victory over the hard-luck Bulldogs.

It was a strange turn of events on a night full of them. Fort Chiswell coach Stephen James convinced the officials to change a call — a rare occurrence — and the game was halted with one minute and five seconds because of a power outage.

“It if happens, it happens to us,” said Cline as the Bulldogs fell to 1-5.

The Bulldogs were leading 17-13 with 27.3 seconds left in the first half and had the ball at their own 32-yard-line after holding the Pioneers on downs.

Rather than take the safe route and run out the clock, Cline opted for the home run ball. Thomasville quarterback Jalen Jenkins had already thrown two touchdown passes but he threw the ball straight into the hands of Biedleman, who raced untouched 55 yards for a touchdown with 12 seconds remaining. Quarterback Brett Mabry threw a fade to Davin Odum for two-point conversion and a 21-17 lead.

And that was it as far as points.

The second half turned out to be a defensive struggle with the Pioneers controlling the clock a great deal of the time behind tailback Dallas Ward, who carried the ball 36 times for 134 yards. Fort Chiswell, which is located near Wytheville, Va., improved to 5-0.

Just like last week’s 10-7 loss to Randleman, this one stung.

“They’re a good football team,” Cline said. “I just wish I hadn’t made that call before halftime.”

The Bulldogs had planned to throw more because Fort Chiswell’s huge defensive line was expected to pose a challenge to running the football. It turned out the Bulldogs threw one pass too many.

“The quarterback said he slipped,” Cline said. “So he underthrew it. But there’s other things that happened throughout the game.”

Fort Chiswell, which had outscored its opponents by a combined 180-39, was glad to take it.

“That was obviously huge for us,” James said. “We knew Thomasville coming in was a great football team. They’ve obviously played some tough competition. We were fortunate to come in here and get out with a win.”

Fort Chiswell was poised to extend its lead midway through the third quarter with a long drive but Mabry was picked off in the end zone by Kailon Bratton. From there it was a slugfest in the trenches on a night in which the Pioneers had just 239 yards of offense, not much better than Thomasville’s 210 yards.

On their final possession, which began at their own 10 with 4:23 left, Thomasville got as far as midfield. But Jenkins was sacked and lost a fumble at the Thomasville 38 with less than two minutes.

Ward was stopped for no gain and then Cushwa Stadium went completely dark except for the scoreboard lights and the pressbox interior with 1:05 to go. The game was called a few minutes later.

The game started like it was going to be shootout when D.J. Spann’s 39-yard scamper set up a Brett Hokenson’s 28-yard field goal, which gave the Bulldogs a 3-0 lead in the first quarter.

Thomasville’s defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession and Biedleman punted. The Bulldogs were flagged for illegal participation and officials marched the ball back to the 14. But James argued, the officials convened, declared the infraction had taken place before the change of possession at midfield. Thomasville head coach Allen Brown and Cline argued with the referee but the reversal stood.

Five plays later, Mabry fired a 39-yard touchdown pass to Chase Rathbone, Cody Cook kicked the extra point and the Pioneers led 7-3.

Thomasville answered on the very next play after the kickoff when Jenkins and Tyquan Anderson connected on an electrifying 67-yard touchdown pass as the Bulldogs went back in front 10-7 late in the first quarter.

But then came a breakdown on special teams as Biedleman returned Hokenson’s pooch kick 62 yards to the Thomasville 19. Ward carried the ball five straight times, culminating in his 1-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter. Cook missed the extra point attempt, leaving the Pioneers with a 13-10 lead.

The Bulldogs marched 55 yards on seven plays following the kickoff, with Jenkins firing a 14-yard touchdown pass to Ike Marsh for a 17-13 lead with just under nine minutes left in the first half.

When the lights went out, it marked the end of Thomasville’s tough nonconference season. Last year, the Bulldogs were 0-6 and ended up reaching the third round of the 2-A state playoffs.

“Right now, it starts over,” Cline said. “We’re 0-0 and everybody else is, too.”

Thomasville hosts West Davidson next Friday to open the Central Carolina Conference portion of the season.

Mike Duprez can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 218 or