The Valdosta Daily Times
The streak lives on and Cook has Mario Cherry to blame for that.
Riding their senior running back, the Thomasville Bulldogs edged the Hornets 21-14 at Veterans Memorial Stadium on Friday night. Cook's last win at Thomasville was in 1950.
Cherry made sure that streak didn’t end on his watch in the Region 1-AA opener. After Cook (2-2, 0-1) tied the game less than two minutes into the fourth quarter, Thomasville began to grind out a win.
Taking more than six minutes off the clock, THS (3-2, 1-0) used 12 plays to cover 55 yards to take the lead for good. Nine of those 12 plays were on the ground as Cherry carried it eight of those times. In all the senior toted it 36 times for 213 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner from 15 yards out with 5:00 left in the game.
“Tough kid, isn’t he?” Thomasville coach Leroy Ryals said about his star. “And on a wet surface. On a couple of runs, if he had a dry surface, he could have put his foot in the ground.
“He’s just a tough young man. He does a good job staying behind his pads, and he’s such a good young man.”
That run came just two plays after Thomasville lined up for a 37-yard field goal. However, following a Cook timeout, the Bulldogs faked the kick and converted the fourth-and-1 when Henri Abrams hit Lewis King for 5 yards.
“Run hard, hold on to the ball and just staying focused and trusting my linemen,” Cherry credited as the keys to his big game.
After Thomasville’s defense forced a three-and-out to get the Bulldogs the ball back, Cherry made sure Cook didn’t see it again as he picked up a pair of first downs to run out the clock, gaining 12 yards on a third-and-9 and 8 on a third-and-4.
“They give it to No. 2 all night and they’re going to be tough because that sucker is tough,” Cook coach Ken Cofer said. “The quarterback is a leader, and I like that about him.”
Thomasville needed those heroics from Cherry after wasting an opportunity midway through the third quarter to extend its lead to two scores. Starting near midfield following a Tyler Lowe interception, the Bulldogs marched inside the Cook 10 as quarterback Payton Dixon picked up a first down with his feet to complement Cherry. However on first-and-goal from the 7, Dixon was pressured and threw a ball up for grabs in the end zone where Cook’s Khilyd Turner came down with it.
“It gets frustrating because we could have put them away,” Ryals said. “We throw an interception in the end zone.
“We just have to make it close, don’t we?”
The Hornets, who tied the game with 10:21 left in the fourth on a 1-yard run from James Traylor in a power set, missed a golden opportunity of their own in the first quarter. On their second possession of the game, the Hornets picked up a fourth-and-3 from the THS 10 on a 4-yard run from Tavian Allen. An offsides penalty on the Bulldogs gave Cook a second-and-goal at the 2. Thomasville, though, stiffened, and only allowed Cook 1 yard on the three ensuing plays, stopping Connor Hilliard on a fourth-down sneak.
“We had some opportunities,” Cofer said. “That’s probably our second time down on the goalline where we switched to a different offense, and sometimes I think we outthink ourselves.
“We switched to a different offense to get bigger and we lost momentum. Thomasville has always been bigger than us, so that probably wasn’t the best thing to do. So we probably should have kept spreading them out and doing what we do.”
Added Ryals: “Our defense played big. It didn’t play correct all the time, but they played with emotion and fire and ran to the ball. When you do that, good things will happen even if you make mistakes from time to time.”
Cook did score on its next possession as Jay Smith rumbled in from 16 yards out to put the Hornets up 7-0 with 9:48 left in the second quarter. Smith led Cook with 64 yards as the Hornets rushed for 136 yards on 42 carries.
Thomasville answered right back. After riding Cherry most of the way, fullback Vantez Gordon churned out 11 yards to move Thomasville inside the red zone and after another penalty — the Bulldogs were flagged 16 times for 153 yards — Dixon then accounted for the final 26 yards to tie the game.
“It’s a momentum swing,” Cofer said. “We drive it right down the field to go up 7, and then it’s just a momentum swing when you are able to run the ball like they did.”
The Bulldogs scored again on their next possession when Cherry — who else — scored from 7 yards out to put Thomasville up 14-7 with 1:18 left in the half. THS totaled 286 yards rushing on 51 carries.
“I’m just thinking about keeping my legs moving, falling forward and being a true running back,” Cherry said. “I think about all the things I have to keep fighting for, and then keep fighting.”