LEDGER — The Mitchell Mountaineers faced its most imposing foe at home this season as it welcomed the Thomasville Bulldogs to Memorial Stadium for a third-round matchup in the state 1A football playoffs. MHS opened up a 21-point first-half lead which proved to be the advantage the Mountaineers would maintain as it held off the Bulldogs by a 38-21 final score to advance to the state quarterfinals.

With the win, Mitchell will travel this Friday, Nov. 26, to Mount Airy to take on the second-seeded Bears. The winner of the showdown in Surry County will host the 1A Western Regional championship game the following week, as No. 9 seed Murphy blew out top-seeded Eastern Randolph on the road last week.

The story of the Mitchell playoff run, quarterback Ty Turbyfill, took over for the Mountaineers offense, as he accounted for 298 of the team’s 464 rushing yards in the win. Turbyfill toted the pigskin 34 times and scored all of the team’s five touchdowns. Carter Hoyle added 96 yards rushing on 10 carries, with 49 yards on nine carries by teammate Gage Young.

In a recurrent pattern over the past several weeks, the Mountaineers struck pay dirt with points on its opening possession, accepting the opening kickoff and driving 69 yards over five plays, with Turbyfill making his first trip to the end zone on a 9-yard touchdown run on a fourth-down play. Ben Wessinger kicked the extra point as Mitchell led 7-0 a little more than three minutes into the contest.

The Mitchell defense forced THS into a three-and-out, and the offense picked up where it left off, as it ran the football nine consecutive times to maneuver 84 yards with Turbyfill dashing 12 yards for a touchdown. A second Wessinger PAT staked the home team to a 14-0 advantage late in the opening stanza.

THS again was unable to muster a first down on the MHS defense and was forced to again punt, and with its ensuing possession Mitchell kept to its game plan of running the football through the teeth of the Bulldogs defense. Another eight-straight running plays to open the second quarter culminated in a 6-yard Turbyfill jaunt to the end zone, with the extra point giving Mitchell a commanding 21-0 lead with 8:23 remaining before halftime.

Thomasville continued to mount an offensive charge in attempting to close the scoring gap, as the Mitchell defense forced the game’s first turnover when Gage Young picked off a pass by THS quarterback CJ Dickerson. Mitchell returned the favor, however, when Turbyfill lost the grip on the football deep in THS territory, which Thomasville recovered to turn the Mountaineers away from further padding its lead.

Thomasville used the turnover as a catalyst for some hard-to-find offensive momentum, as Shamon Smith carried the football twice for 39 yards to spark a Bulldog drive. Six plays later Jabril Carolina put the Bulldogs on the board with a 2-yard plunge over the goal line, with the PAT cutting Mitchell’s advantage to 21-7 with 1:31 remaining before halftime.

Using its two-minute drill, the Mountaineers conserved clock and, beginning from its own 39-yard line, drove to the Thomas 8-yard line, where Wessinger made the drive pay off with a 25-yard field goal in the half’s final two seconds to push Mitchell ahead 24-7 at halftime.

Mitchell was assessed a 15-yard penalty prior to kicking off to open the third quarter, and Thomasville took full advantage, as kick returner Lynn Washington fielded the kick from his own 35-yard line and dodged the Mountaineer tacklers on special teams for a 65-yard kickoff return touchdown. The extra point kick failed, but THS drew to within 24-13 in the opening moments of the third quarter.

Unfazed by the quick Bulldog score, Mitchell continued its game plan and stayed true to its own offensive identity. MHS did mix in one pass on its first offensive series of the third quarter, an 11-yard completion from Turbyfill to Hoyle, but Mitchell ran on nine of 10 plays, capping a 10-play, 48-yard drive with a 3-yard Turbyfill touchdown run. The PAT extended Mitchell’s lead to 31-13 midway through the third quarter.

THS responded on its ensuing drive, finding more offensive success on the Mitchell defense than any team to date during the postseason. An eight-play, 50-yard drive was capped by a Dickerson 3-yard run, with Dickerson also scoring a two-point conversion to cut the MHS lead to 31-21 with less than two minutes to play in the third quarter.

The Thomasville defense, when it needed a stop most, simply was unable to get off the field. MHS continued to put the pressure on the visitors, as an eight-play, 65-yard possession resulted in a 34-yard Turbyfill touchdown carry. Wessinger’s PAT gave the Mountaineers a 38-21 lead. The Mitchell defense quenched any attempt on a Bulldogs rally when Ethan Willis picked off a Dickerson pass on the Mitchell 5-yard line with 7:52 to play in the game. The Mountaineers took possession and managed to retain possession with a clock-killing drive of 11 plays and 79 yards, forcing THS to use all of its timeouts and clinching the 17-point win.

Dickerson led Thomasville with 55 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown, but completed just 3-of-14 passes for 54 yards and two interceptions. Willis led Mitchell with five tackles, with four tackles by Chase Duncan. Dame Gatherings of THS led all defenders with 12 tackles. Mitchell limited Thomasville to just 205 yards in total offense.

In other 1A Western regional playoff action, Robbinsville defeated North Rowan to set up a rematch with fellow Smoky Mountain Conference foe Murphy this week. The winner of that matchup will face the Mitchell/Mount Airy winner for the regional title and a trip to the state championship game. Should Mitchell win this week, the Mountaineers will host the state semifinal game at Memorial Stadium.

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