Semifinal prediction: Thompson has another shot at Hoover to get to State Title game

Published 7:14 pm Wednesday, November 21, 2018

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

Once again, for the second year in a row, the Thompson Warriors are on to the semifinals of the playoffs where they will have to go through the Hoover Buccaneers in yet another rematch game.

Before last season, the Warriors hadn’t been to the playoffs in 10 years nor had they made it to the semifinals since their 1982 state championship season.

Now, to go in back-to-back seasons, shows the special turnaround head coach Mark Freeman has made, as well as the buy in of each player on the team.

But this season, only one thing can make it special; a trip to the state championship in Jordan-Hare Stadium in two weeks.

Last year’s historic season was the talk of Alabaster, and much of the state of Alabama, after the Warriors were able to take down Hoover for the first time in school history during the regular season before going on to win the Class 7A Region 3 crown after finishing the regular season a perfect 10-0.

But the ending, a gut-wrenching 31-12 loss to the Buccaneers in a rematch to deny Thompson a trip to the state championship game, left a sour taste in the team’s mouth despite all of that historic success.

If you talk to the players and coaches, they’ll admit that the moment became too much, and they probably weren’t as prepared as they needed to be.

And who can blame them?

Thompson was having all of this new success and excitement around the program, but just like everyone else, the Warriors new a rematch against an angry Hoover team that had been beaten by a team for the first time ever wasn’t the best recipe for success.

It was a Hoover team that had been there, done that, having made 10 consecutive trips to the semifinals of the playoffs, which only added a relaxed comfort level to their fueled motivation of wanting redemption.

It showed on the field in every facet of the game.

But, this year is different.

Not only do the Thompson players and coaching staff have a year of experience in this exact situation, but this time around the Warriors have the redemption factor on their side.

One of the biggest aspects of winning a football game aside from pure talent is playing with motivation and confidence.

Since its 45-26 loss to Hoover back on Sept. 7, in just the third game of the season, Thompson has gone on to win eight consecutive games, improving along the way.

Last year’s team was really steady throughout the year, but this year’s squad has shown drastic improvement since that first game against the Bucs.

Thompson’s confidence level has gone through the roof over the last few weeks dating back to the team’s 63-49 win against Hewitt-Trussville on Oct. 26; a game the Warriors trailed 28-0 early in the second quarter.

Not only did that seemingly flip a switch for the Warriors, but in a rematch with the Huskies last Friday, they dominated on both sides of the ball from start to finish with a 37-13 victory.

They held an offense that was scoring 40-plus points per game to its lowest total of the season at 13 points, and also held them under 40 points for just the second time in the last nine games and under 30 points for the second time all season.

That was a Hewitt team that dominated Hoover 56-28 the week after the Bucs’ win against Thompson, showing the growth the Warriors have had over the last 10 weeks.

Earlier this season, and throughout the regular season, I thought Hoover was the better team. It led to me picking the Buccaneers to win that first matchup, and it led to me thinking the ASWA was crazy for putting Thompson ahead of Hoover in the Class 7A top-10 poll.

I needed to see proof that this Thompson team could bounce back and learn from that first matchup.

My confidence in the team truly grew in that loss.

Despite falling behind 21-0 because of early mistakes and failed conversions inside Hoover territory, the Warriors eventually came back to make the score 31-26 late in the third quarter.

The deficit ended up being too much to overcome against a really good team, but it was a learning experience for a young team early in the season.

The biggest concerns coming into the season for Thompson were receivers for Taulia Tagovailoa to throw to and the defensive side of the ball.

In that first game, both were exploited. The receivers dropped several passes, a couple of which could have gone for touchdowns, while the defense struggled mightily to handle dual-threat quarterback Robby Ashford and running back Larry McCammon.

Thompson did a great job against Auburn commit George Pickens at wide receiver, but the defense couldn’t stop the run game at all as Ashford and McCammon both went over 100 yards combining for 249 rushing yards.

The Warriors, however, are now a different team, and it all came together in the first matchup against Hewitt-Trussville and culminated in the rematch last weeks.

The defense was flying to the football on ever play, while receivers stepped up and rarely dropped balls, especially Michael Pettway, who is the biggest key out wide.

Since the first matchup against the Bucs, defensive coordinator Shawn Defoor has wanted another shot at shutting down Ashford, McCammon and Pickens, and now he gets his shot, as do his players on that side of the ball.

They’ll have to be fast to the football, specifically on the outside edges. That may be the biggest key in Thompson winning, and it has to start early.

Last time around, the Warriors fell behind 21-0. This time around, they need the exact start they had against the Huskies last week; a defensive stand to start the game followed by a score on the opening drive.

Playing from in front is a must for Thompson this time around. If the Warriors are able to take the early lead, their defense is playing good enough as is their running game, that I really like their chances.

Tagovailoa and Shadrick Byrd have showed an increased dominance running the football in the last several weeks, which makes this offense even more potent than it was the first time around against Hoover.

Early in the season, I didn’t see a path to victory for the Warriors, but this time around, due to that running game, a defense out for blood, receivers hanging onto the football and the redemption factor from last year’s heart break and the disappointing loss this season, I not only see a path to victory, but I see a victory for a hungry, motivated Thompson team ready to make a statement.

Thompson 35, Hoover 28