“I think I’m 99.8 percent,” he said with a smirk.
After his performance in Florence’s Braly Municipal Stadium on Friday, one would sure love to see what a 100-percent Thomas looks like.
Playing in front of his college coach in waiting, the Auburn commitment Racean Thomas burst for 235 yards and four touchdowns, including the decisive 70-yard touchdown run with 5:22 to play, and Oxford rallied from behind twice to beat Florence 26-20.
The non-region victory was Oxford’s third in a row after an 0-2 start and left Florence with a matching 3-2 record.
Thomas’s performance was his best this season after a run of nagging injuries. First-year Oxford coach Ryan Herring said during the week that Thomas was not quite 100 percent but above 90.
Turns out, he was holding his cards close.
“We thought he was close to a hundred percent all week,” Herring said. “He had his stitches, and he’s still got stitches on his eye, and one time his bandage came off, but he toughed it out.
“He looked like the ‘Roc’ that I had seen on film when I got here.”
Thomas sustained a slight concussion in Oxford’s season-opening loss to Carrollton, Ga., then an ankle injury in the loss at Clay Chalkville. He was limited to six carries and seven yards in the Yellow Jackets’ 6-0 victory over Gadsden City.
He ran for 130 yards on 16 carries with two scores despite sustaining the cut near an eye in a 42-14 rout of Huntsville a week ago.
With Auburn coach Gus Malzahn in attendance Friday, Thomas broke out, scoring on runs of 48, 30, six and 70 yards. The 70-yarder came on Oxford’s first offensive snap after Florence quarterback Kendric Doss put the Falcons up 20-18 on a 12-yard run.
Thomas ran for 159 yards in the second half, helping Oxford overcome a 14-6 halftime deficit and 199 yards in total offense from Doss, an Ole Miss commitment.
Thomas did it as Malzahn watched from the visiting sideline, at the 10-yard line nearest Oxford’s locker room.
“I was aware (of Malzahn’s presence), but I just tried to keep my head and stay humble and try to do my thing,” Thomas said.
Thomas doing his thing helped Oxford rally from deficits of 14-6 and 20-18, but Oxford’s defense also did its thing after a rugged first quarter.
Throwing quick, short-to-intermediate passes, Doss spread the ball among five receivers while completing seven of nine passes for 86 yards in the first quarter. His passing keyed two touchdown drives, capped by Cedric Adams touchdown runs of one and 18 yards, and the Falcons led 14-6 after the first quarter.
But Oxford’s defense switched from cover-3 to cover-2, and Doss completed just 5 of 15 passes over the final three quarters.
“It was just tighten up, do your job, and our linebackers kind of jammed those receivers and just kept them from just running down the field,” Oxford middle linebacker Josh Snow said. “In the first half, I think their quarterback got used to that cover-3, so we kind of changed things up and mixed it up on him, kind of caught him off guard.”
The different look changed Doss’ read.
“They kind of got out of the box, and they went to a five-man box,” Florence coach Jim DuBose said. “Odds are, with a five-man box, you run the football, and that’s what we said.
“When we did that, they did a good job with their ends and clogged that up a little bit.”
Florence went scoreless in the second and third quarters and nearly 10 minutes into the fourth.
Meanwhile, Oxford’s defense kept creating scoring opportunities, with Colton Turner’s second-quarter interception, Kenyn Richey’s second-quarter fumble recovery and Thomas Rudolph’s partial punt block in the third. Each time, Oxford turned the ball over on downs inside the Florence 25-yard line.
Oxford’s one offensive success in that stretch came thanks to a fake punt. Quarterback Ty Webber also doubles as punter and threw a 25-yard pass to Tredarian Gamble for a first down at Florence’s 30 near the eight-minute mark of the third quarter.
The next play saw Thomas score on a spectacular run, breaking several tackles to bring Oxford within 14-12 at 7:56.
A shanked Florence punt set up Thomas’ next score, a 6-yard run to put Oxford up 18-14 with 9:18 left in the fourth quarter, but Florence would answer on its next possession.
Keaton Anderson’s fake-punt run after Rudolph was flagged for running into the kicker kept the drive alive, and Doss completed two passes to set up his 12-yard touchdown run to put the Falcons up 20-18 with 5:35 to play.
On the next offensive snap, Thomas broke through a big hole on Oxford’s left side and found nothing but green against a drawn-up Florence defense. By the time he reached 15 yards downfield, all blue jerseys were behind him.
“That was a heartbreaker. It was a heartbreaker,” DuBose said. “It was something right to the throat, right to the heart, and it was a simple play.
“He’s a great back, but we just misfit it.”
Florence had two chances after that but went three-and-out on both possessions. The Falcons elected to punt both times, the last time with two timeouts left and less than two minutes to play.
After two Thomas runs went nowhere, he ran for 10 yards and out of bounds on third down. An official measurement confirmed the first down with 1:05 to play, and Webber knelt away the final 65 seconds.
“It was a tough, tough win and a tough, tough game,” Herring said. “I can’t say enough about how our defense bowed up so many times against a great quarterback, and then, finally, our offense sparked.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.