THOMASVILLE — After their toughest test of the season against Lee County, Thomas County Central came away victorious with the Region one championship in tow. It was by far the Yellow Jackets toughest test of the year. Many viewed Central as a good, but untested, football team. Yellow Jackets head coach Justin Rogers said it’s nothing new and he always believed in his guys.
“They said the same thing last year,” Rogers said. “You play who’s on your schedule, but I thought we played the way we were supposed to play in front of the teams we had to play. So, we believed the whole time. We knew we had a good football team.”
Central looked good from the jump on Friday night in the Jackets Nest as quarterback Jaylen Johnson was showing off his mobility. The sophomore QB used his legs early to bring the Yellow Jackets inside the ten on the opening drive, but Lee’s defense stepped up and forced a field goal out of the Jackets.
Then, Ousmane Kromah stepped onto the field. The 6’2, 218 pound Lee County junior running back had been a one man wrecking crew all year and it’s all any Yellow Jacket fan could talk about last week. To win the region title, the Jackets d-line, who has dominated against the run all season, would have to leave it all on the field and stop the run. An impenetrable force against an immovable object. But Kromah looked good early on, as Lee was moving the ball.
However, a botched hand off led to a fumble recovery for the Jackets giving the offense short field position. That’s all that Trey Brenton needed as the Central back took it 35 yards for the touchdown on the first play of the Jackets second drive. Brenton would finish the game with 157 yards on 18 carries.
The following drive Kromah would go down. The back was forced to exit the game as Trojan supporters sat on pins and needles. Kromah would return just two plays later and Lee would close the gap as QB Weston Bryan hit Kromah in the air for a 22 yard strike, making it 10-7 Central.
The start of the second quarter would be a sour one for Central. Lee County seemed to have no problem disrupting Johnson and the passing game forcing a punt to start the quarter. Just a few plays later, after Kromah exited the game after getting poked in the eye, Braxton Honer got the ball on a reverse and took it 29 yards in for the score. Not only had the Jackets lost the lead, but Central’s best defender and Auburn commit Dee Reddick went down with an apparent injury on the play. The extent of the injury is unclear. What was clear is that he was out for the game, after he exited the locker room in the second half without pads.
That didn’t stop the junior from leaving everything he had on that field for his team. Reddick all but sprinted out of the medical tent straight to his offense, who was in a huddle, screaming and hyping up his brothers.
“It just shows you the love they have for one another,” Rogers said about the moment. “These kids care for each other. They grew up with one another, they played Y ball with one another, they love one another. So, they play for each other.”
Whatever Reddick said must have worked because, after a pass interference call put the ball on the 35, the Jackets offense woke up. Trey Brenton took a physical run inside the ten and Johnson finished off the drive with a quick nine yard touchdown pass to Abe Smith to put Central back on top.
The Yellow Jackets took a 17-14 lead into half time of a very physical and even matchup. The Trojans came into the second half aggressive, possibly too aggressive. After Central forced a fourth down, the Trojans went for it and turned the ball over on downs after the Jackets d-line stuffed Kromah at the line.
The Yellow Jackets took advantage, scoring in just three plays. Brenton took a break away run 40 yards inside the five, then finished off the short drive with a touchdown reception, giving Central the 24-14 lead.
Lee County then went on a slow a grueling drive that ate most of the third quarter. They converted on fourth down twice in the drive and settled for a field goal. But, with just seven minutes left in the game, Kromah would even the score as he finally broke through the line for a 79 yard strike, tying the game and sucking the air out of the Jackets Nest.
But Tre’von Pringle would give the energy right back to the Jacket faithful with a big kickoff return past midfield.
“Tre’von Pringle grew up in front of our eyes,” said Rogers.
For a moment it looked like the return wouldn’t matter as Lee County forced a fourth down, but a pass to Malachi Thomas over the middle put the Jackets just 25 yards away from the lead and once again Pringle stepped up. The sophomore receiver caught the go ahead touchdown pass and the Jackets went up 31-24.
But Lee wasn’t done yet. The Trojans marched down field and, after a facemask penalty by Central, found themselves on the 12 yard line with two minutes to go. The Trojans found the end zone on a QB keeper, but the tying score was called back after a holding penalty. The Jackets forced a fourth down and Central fans can crown Caleb Anderson and Jamarion Fye the saviors of the game as they made an open field tackle, keeping the Trojans away from the sticks and forcing a turn over on downs.
The Yellow Jackets assumed the victory formation and students stormed the field as Central took their toughest win of the season and the region title.
“It feels awesome,” Rogers said. “I mean, it’s awesome to win a region championship any time, but when you win one in this region, with the talent that’s in this region, it’s extra special and to do it at home is great because we’ve got the best fans ever.”