Today's interviewee is Thomasville coach Zach Grage, whose team defeated second-ranked Rabun County 38-24 last week in the Class AA quarterfinals. Thomasville is in the semifinals for the first time since 1993.
Zach Grage, Thomasville head coach
1. How did Friday's game play out? What made the difference? And what is your assessment of Rabun County sophomore QB Gunner Stockton? "Friday's game was exactly what you would expect out of a quarterfinal matchup. The atmosphere was electric, and two good high school football teams got after it until the final whistle. Rabun got the ball and scored in three plays. Then we were able to score 14 unanswered, and they added a field goal just before halftime. The third quarter was the turning point, as we were able to score three touchdowns, one on a blocked punt and scoop and score. The game entered the fourth quarter with us leading 35-10, but it was closer than that, and I never felt great until the clock hit 0. Overall, I think we were lucky enough to make just a few more plays than them on offense, and our defense did a great job putting pressure on the quarterback while covering routes downfield. We don't have a lot of stars next to our names, but our guys play as hard as they can. They love each other, they love football, and they take a lot of pride in carrying this community on their backs. Gunner Stockton is as good as advertised. You can tell he is extremely well-coached and has all the physical tools to make any play, running or throwing. I was most impressed with his leadership and presence throughout the game. He definitely has the 'it' factor."
2. You had a star rising sophomore QB of your own who transferred in the offseason. Then you started 2-4. It would've been only human to have some doubts along the way. How steady has your faith level been in this team, and what turned things around? "I actually asked the players and coaches the other day before our Pepperell game who questioned what we were doing and had thoughts of quitting when we were 0-3. Nobody raised their hands, and I laughed and said they were all liars. This team has come a long way since that 0-3, then 2-4, start in really just pure experience and 'want-to.' We had to replace a lot of production off last year's team, and it took us a few games to work the puzzle pieces and get the best product out on the field. As coaches, we also had to learn what we were good at both offensively and defensively. In today's society, especially where people run from adversity, enter transfer portals and give up on their commitments when things may not go their way, I cannot say enough about these young men and their desire to do something great, not caring who gets credit or the spotlight on a given night. There is a lot of pride and tradition around the Thomasville football program, and when you lose to Cairo and Thomas County Central in the same year, it is definitely a challenge to shut out the outside noise and keep working for the goals we set at the beginning of the season: Earn a region championship, host playoff games which our community deserves, and play for one more week in the playoffs. Our senior captains told the team before our preparation for Brooks County that we were not losing anymore. I rephrased it to we were winning from here on out (positive words over negative words), and we went to work. I cannot say enough about these young men and my assistant coaches' effort and buy-in this year."
3. It's hard to believe that Thomasville hasn't been to the semifinals since 1993. Lots of good teams have fallen short. What does reaching the semifinals and the Rabun victory mean to the program? "As it would anywhere, it means a lot. Most importantly, we have been blessed with the opportunity to host all four rounds at Veterans' Memorial Stadium, an atmosphere I think is unmatched throughout the state. Beating Rabun just means we accomplished our goal of playing one more week in the playoffs. Reaching the semifinals is awesome for our kids to see the fruits of their labor, but it is not the ultimate goal. We challenge our team all the time to fulfill their purpose and not just check boxes. Get something out of every day, every class, every practice, every rep. We really feel like this team is here for a reason, and now all we have to do is fulfill our purpose, whatever it may be."
4. What do you know about Dublin, and how do you match up against them? "We have gotten to know Dublin over the past couple of years, as we knocked them out in the second round in 2017, and they knocked us out in the second round in 2018. I know they are loaded with talent, and they run their schemes to perfection, as Coach [Roger] Holmes is one of the best to ever do it and someone I definitely look up to in this profession. We hope to go out and play as hard as we can and try to be better than them for 2.5 hours."
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