Semifinal bound: Warriors top Spartans to earn rematch with Hoover
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor
ALABASTER – After a slow start that saw just six first-half points, Thompson scored 28-unanswered points in the second half to beat Mountain Brook 34-10 for the second time this season to advance past the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1987.
With the win, the Warriors are not only headed to the third round for the first time in 30 years, but also clinch a spot in the semifinals of the playoffs for just the third time in school history; where they will get none other than the Hoover Buccaneers in a rematch of the game of the year played at the Hoover Met back on Oct. 27.
“We want to give the Lord all of the glory for what he has done here at Alabaster,” head coach Mark Freeman said of his team’s historic run this season. “When we got here, our goal was to build a good football program and every week we get to play right now is another practice for our young kids, which sets the example for the future.”
In just his third year at the helm, Freeman has turned this team from an 0-10 team in 2014 to a 12-0 team in 2017.
While the success has been there this entire season, it didn’t start out that way in the first half as Mountain Brook came storming out of the gates in the first half.
After a Thompson three-and-out, the Spartans took over at the Warriors’ 35-yard line. Despite missing their top two rushers in Harold Joiner and AJ Gates, Mountain Brook proceeded to march 65 yards with ease on Thompson’s defense.
The Spartans capped the drive off with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Hamp Sisson to Pierce Rodriguez as they struck first taking a 7-0 lead with 2:11 remaining in the opening quarter.
Thompson came out on the ensuing drive and threw three straight passes with quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa for the second drive in a row and went three-and-out again.
Fortunately for the Warriors, on the fourth-down punt, Mountain Brook fumbled and Myles Brown recovered the ball to set Thompson up on the Spartans’ 23-yard line.
The Warriors eventually got inside the 10-yard line after three runs from Byrd and one from Tagovailoa, but failed to convert on third-and-8, which led to a field goal from Evan McGuire to cut the Mountain Brook lead to 7-3.
The Spartans started the next drive of the game on their own 29-yard line and came close to going on another long 71-yard drive when they got a first-and-goal from the 5-yard line.
Thompson’s defense finally showed some life and limited Mountain Brook to just a field goal as the Spartans took a 10-3 advantage with just over 4:00 left in the second quarter.
A strong kickoff return by Michael Pettway set the Warriors up with good field position on the Mountain Brook 35-yard line, but yet again a goal-line stand was made.
After driving to the 5-yard line behind some big JoJo Ford runs, the senior running back was injured on a second down run. Ford didn’t return to the game and was seen in a knee brace on the sideline for the rest of the night.
Thompson ended the drive with another field goal to cut the lead to 10-6, which was the halftime score.
Hamp Sisson threw for 161 yards in the first half to lead the Spartans, while Tagovailoa was just 4-10 for 31 yards.
“That little 10, I’ve watched him for three years now,” Freeman said of Sisson. “Hamp is a heck of a player. That is a football player and I give him and Mountain Brook all the credit for that first half. He put the team on his back and they came out ready to play. That’s what a quarterback and leaders do.”
Despite all of the compliments, Freeman, the coaching staff and the players figured out at the halftime break how to stop Sisson and the Spartans’ team coming out in the second half.
The Warriors came out and scored on a 62-yard drive in just 2:23 seconds of the second half to take its first lead of the game at 13-10. The drive was capped off by a beautiful 11-yard touchdown pass from Tagovailoa to a fully extended Alondae Vassar.
It was off to the races after that, as Thompson went on to score 21 more unanswered points the rest of the way. The defense was in full lock down mode and the offense posted its 28 second half points in a quick 15:48 of play.
They went on drives of 62, 69, 80 and 58 yards in that amount of time.
“We were killing ourselves in the first half by not getting off the field, which I say every week is a key,” Freeman said. “We came out in the second half and were successful on the first drive and were then able to kind of get field position and hit them again and again with some tempo.”
When asked what was said at the halftime break, Freeman just shot a look with a grin before saying jokingly, “it wasn’t very nice,” while letting out a smile.
After Vassar’s incredible catch to start the scoring, the second half saw Byrd punch one in from 5 yards out, Vassar make another incredible diving catch for a 12-yard touchdown and a 9-yard touchdown catch for Ahmad Edwards.
Vassar ended the night with 71 yards receiving and two diving touchdown catches. Tagovailoa finished 25-of-40 for 251 yards and three touchdowns. Byrd ended the night with 85 yards after he became the feature back with Ford’s injury.
With the win Thompson now moves on to a semifinal matchup with Hoover that is sure to be the talk of the state for the next week with the winner moving on to the 2017 7A State Championship.
The Warriors picked up their first win over the Bucs in school history back on Oct. 27 thanks to a hard-fought 35-25 win.
“Hoover is that team that is going to do what they are going to do and we’re going to do what we do,” Freeman said. “We’re just fortunate that we’ll be playing in a semfinal game here at home.”
Photos available at shelbycountyphotos.com