Thompson downs No. 8 Vestavia Hills, now one win away from region title

By SETH HAGAN | Special to the Reporter

VESTAVIA HILLS – The No. 1 ranked Thompson Warriors faced a tough road test in the ninth ranked Vestavia Hills on Friday, Oct. 11, but emerged victorious using a big third quarter to pull away from the scrappy Rebels, 35-21.

“I thought our defensive guys did a great job adjusting and that’s what football is,” said Thompson head coach Mark Freeman after the win. “We’re playing good teams and coaches every week and I’m really proud of all our players, because you can come into a place like this and beat yourself.”

Vestavia (5-2, 3-2) came into the game allowing less than 10 points a game and hadn’t allowed more than 16 to any team in 2019.

Thompson took care of that in the first half. Sawyer Pate was absolutely sensational in the first half hitting 20 of his 21 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns.

He began by guiding his team down the field with ease, and just over a minute into the game he found Jojo Gaiters on the left side of the end zone for a 7-0 lead.

Gaiters, taking over for the injured Jarrett Crockett, made a seamless transition catching five balls for 45 yards and running for 35 more in the first half, but his biggest play came after halftime.

The Warriors forced a stop and promptly marched back down the field for another score. This time Sam Reynolds split out at the goal line and Pate hit him for the wide open touchdown with 6:11 remaining.

The Rebels needed a response and found it with a time-consuming 6:16 drive that took up the rest of the first quarter and Eli Sawyer finally snuck it in from the 1-yard line to get on the board and cut the deficit to 14-7.

Thompson (7-0, 5-0) responded instantly as Pate faked play action and found Michael Pettway running wide open down the right sideline. Vestavia bit hard on the run and Pettway took the top off the defense with no resistance for the 21-7 lead.

Pettway went on to have a monster first half with six catches for 146 yards.

The teams exchanged possessions, but the Rebels found their rhythm again grinding the Warriors’ defense all the way down the field. Despite outgaining Vestavia by 130, Buddy Anderson’s group collected 11 first downs in the first half and cut the lead in half on Jack Talley’s 4-yard touchdown run to make it 21-14 at the half.

Thompson’s defense has made good halftime adjustments all year and answered the call again in the third quarter. After forcing a three-and-out on the first drive, the Warriors’ defense was backed into their own territory, but Ja’Vone Williams jumped his man’s route and returned the ball near midfield on an interception.

The Rebels’ defense returned the ball to the offense who again drove into Thompson territory.

This time, the Warrior defense bent, but didn’t break.

They stuffed the run game and forced Vestavia into consecutive bad passes, including a fourth down try that went by the wayside to give the ball back to Thompson.

This was Jojo Gaiters’ moment and, after making a couple of defenders miss, he took a great angle toward the left sideline and ran untouched into the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown and a 28-14 lead.

Gaiters finished with 189 total yards from scrimmage–a career high–and two touchdowns.

“I can’t say enough about Jojo, he came in and did exactly what he needed to do,” Freeman said. “We didn’t have Jarrett tonight and Jojo made sure we didn’t miss a beat.”

The offense got one more shot before the third quarter and made the most of it as Pate found Tre Roberson in the left corner of the end zone for his final touchdown to blow the game open.

Pate had another stellar game for the Warriors going 29-of-33 for 329 yards and four touchdowns. Roberson finished with a season-high 83 yards on three receptions.

Owen May led the defense on the night with 7.5 total tackles including a tackle for loss.

Thompson will have the opportunity to clinch Class 7A, Region 3 next Friday, Oct 18 when the Warriors host undefeated Mountain Brook at 7 p.m.