History made: Thompson beats Hoover, advances to first state championship game since 1982

Published 11:20 pm Friday, November 23, 2018

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

Hoover – Down two scores, facing fourth-and-6 with six minutes left in the game, Taulia Tagovailoa took the snap, stood in the pocket and fired a desperation ball far down the left sideline where A.J. Bonham looked over his shoulder with pellets of rain nailing his face, and saw the ball fall right into his hands for a 56-yard touchdown pass.

That touchdown catch with 5:55 left in the game on Friday, Nov. 23, at the Hoover Met still left Thompson down 28-23, but it gave the Warriors hope, and that’s all this team needed.

With 2:18 left in the game, however, Thompson was forced to punt after going three-and-out from its own 15-yard line, as the Warriors’ chances seemed bleak yet again.

But this group of players that has worked the last two years to turn the program into a state championship team, did just that.

The Warriors forced a quick three-and-out of their own, and got the ball back at their own 15-yard line with 2:08 to go and a timeout.

In just two plays, Tagovailoa had completed two passes for 57 yards to get the Warriors down to the Hoover 28 quickly. Shortly after, Thompson faced a fourth-and-2, and converted yet another clutch play to keep the drive going on a 4-yard run from Tagovailoa.

Thompson then got another good run from Tagovailoa that set the Warriors up with first-and-goal, which allowed Shadrick Byrd to punch in his third rushing touchdown of the night from three yards out, and this time it was one of the most historic touchdown’s in the school’s history as he put his team on top 31-28 with 21 seconds left following a 2-point conversion.

After the Buccaneers fumbled the ensuing kickoff and fell on it at the 2-yard line, they had 98 yards to go with just 13 seconds left.

On the first play, quarterback Robby Ashford tried to heave a deep pass over the middle of the field, but their stood Jalen Bustamante who picked off his second interception of the game and sealed Thompson’s first state championship berth since 1982 with a 31-28 victory over Hoover.

“It feels great,” Bustamante said a few seconds after the game-winning play. “We worked so hard since last year. It feels great to see all that hard work pay off. I can’t explain it. We listened to our coaches and executed and never gave up.”

It was a special feeling for this team and head coach Mark Freeman, who has taken the Warriors from an 0-10 squad in 2014 to a state championship game in 2018—the team’s second appearance in the title game ever.

“This is a testament to our whole program,” Freeman stated. “I couldn’t ask for better players or better coaches to be doing this with. When I got here they said, ‘Build us a program.’ I just feel extremely blessed and I’m really tickled for the Alabaster people.”

Thompson not only got redemption for the 45-26 loss to the Bucs earlier this season, but redeemed last year’s heartbreaking semifinal loss to Hoover as well.

Getting off to a fast start was key this time around for Thompson after falling behind 21-0 at the end of the first quarter in the first matchup earlier this season, and the Warriors showed they were ready to do just that.

After forcing a punt on Hoover’s first drive of the game, Thompson got its first crack on offense and made it count in just three plays.

Shadrick Byrd started the drive with a 17-yard run before Jarrett Crockett reeled off a 51-yard run a play later.

That set the Warriors up with first-and-goal from the 4-yard line, and in typical Byrd form, it took just one play for him to find the end zone to open the scoring with a 4-yard touchdown run that put Thompson on top 7-0 in just 32 seconds of its first offensive possession.

Running and defense became the trend early for Thompson, and it worked well.

With the defense getting stop-after-stop early on, the Warriors were able to rely heavily on that run game, and it led to another score shortly after.

An eight-play 77 yard drive ended with a 12-yard touchdown run from Byrd, who put Thompson on top 14-0 with 10:47 left in the second quarter.

To that point in the game, Thompson had run 17 plays and 16 of them were running plays.

“We felt like we could come out and run the ball early and it would open up the pass late,” Freeman said. “We knew the weather was going to be sloppy in the second half and thought about reversing our game plan to throw early, but we had practiced all week with the run game starting us off strong and it worked.”

Hoover, being the dynasty it is, however, adjusted on both sides of the ball and was able to climb back into the game.

The Bucs answered on the ensuing drive with an Ashford touchdown run to cut the deficit to seven points, before Thompson came back down to kick a field goal on its next possession.

With 1:11 left until the half, Hoover got one step closer thanks to a 6-yard touchdown run from Ashford to make the score 17-14 at the break.

The Bucs continued the swing in momentum into the second half and overtook the lead at 21-17 with 5:12 left to play in the third quarter.

After the Warriors went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, Hoover was able to bust through the line on the punt attempt for the block before scooping it up and taking it into the end zone to extend the lead to 28-17 with 4:11 left to play.

At this point, the Buccaneers had outscored Thompson 28-3 since midway through the second quarter.

That followed with a scoreless drought for both teams. With Thompson’s offense unable to move the ball and Hoover having all of the momentum, it looked out of reach, but over the final six minutes, despite all of the odds stacked against the Warriors, they pulled it out.

With the 56-yard touchdown on fourth-and-6, that would have likely ended the game had it been dropped, and the 12-yard touchdown run from Byrd in the final 21 seconds, this 2018 Thompson Warriors football team made history.

“It’s just one of them things man. You believe it until the clock runs out,” Freeman said. “To come here and beat (Hoover) at this field… is a testament to our players and coaches.

“That’s who they are. They practice under duress every day. We practice and talk about stuff just like this and it happened right before their eyes tonight and they executed.”

Tagovailoa ended the game 12-of-28 for 228 yards and one touchdown passing, while also adding 36 yards on the ground. His top target was Bonham, who ended the game with four receptions for 100 yards, while Michael Pettway added 71 yards on three receptions.

Shadrick Byrd continued his dominant presence on the ground with 23 rushing attempts and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score with 21 seconds left.

The Warriors will now head to Auburn to take on Central-Phenix City in Jordan-Hare Stadium on Wednesday Dec. 5 looking to win their second state championship in as many appearances.

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com