Thompson beats Mountain Brook to claim 2nd region title in 3 years

Published 12:20 am Saturday, October 19, 2019

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

ALABASTER – After struggling all night at getting off the field on third downs, the Thompson Warriors put that behind them and after taking a 27-21 lead on No. 5 Mountain Brook, they came back the next drive on fourth-and-6 from the Thompson 39-yard line and got a pick-six from Ja’Vone Williams to cement a 33-21 victory and their second region title in three years on Friday, Oct. 18.

“I want to give God all the glory for that,” head coach Mark Freeman said. “This team is a team of a bunch of hard workers. They’re a special team that finds ways to win. We’re very blessed to have won the region championship again.” 

And it was a team that had to work hard the entire night to pick up the victory.

After trailing throughout the game, Thompson finally took its first lead of the game with 3:54 to go thanks to a 30-yard catch on third down to keep the drive alive, before JoJo Gaiters reeled off runs of 12 and 6 yards to cap the scoring drive. After the missed PAT, the Warriors were ahead 27-21.

To that point in the game, Thompson had allowed the Spartans to convert on 10 of 15 third downs. But on the ensuing drive, after allowing one more third down conversion, the Warriors stepped up.

They not only stopped the Mountain Brook on third down, but Williams stepped in front of a lofted pass on a trick play that ended with him taking the ball 60 yards to the house for the pick-six to put the game away.

It marked the second time in as many drives that Thompson’s defense had made a big stop, as the Warriors also forced a three-and-out the possession before Gaiters’ touchdown. Those three drives, two defensive and one offensive, became the difference in the win.

“In the second half, we got one or two more possessions,” Freeman said. “We knew coming in that playing them, you have to win the possession battle. The defense did a better job of getting off the field and getting the ball back for us in the second half, which changed the game around after we struggled to do that for so long.”

Early in the game, the Spartans got off to the exact start they wanted to by scoring on the opening drive. They used a 37-yard pass from Strother Gibbs to Crawford Golden, a personal foul by the Warriors and then a 13-yard touchdown pass to Sam Higgins to strike first in just six plays for a 7-0 advantage.

With Mountain Brook controlling the pace in the first quarter, that was all of the game’s scoring in the first 12 minutes.

But Thompson started the second quarter with the ball at its own 41-yard line and made the opportunity count. The Warriors got several big plays from Sam Reynolds and Gaiters to move them down the field, before Gaiters toted in the game-tying touchdown from 4 yards out to even the score at 7-7 with 9:46 left in the second quarter.

It looked like the Warriors were going to score again just before the half after driving down inside the Mountain Brook 15-yard line, but a tipped Sawyer Pate pass led to an interception to close out the opening half in a 7-7 tie.

Thompson was set to start the second half with the ball, but the Spartans caught the perfect onside kick that landed where nobody was and took the perfect bounce into a Mountain Brook player’s hands.

The Spartans quickly took advantage and converted two third downs on their drive before Gibbs ran in a 6-yard touchdown to give them a 14-7 lead with 9:02 remaining in the third quarter.

“We worked on the onside kick all week and didn’t execute that,” Freeman said. “It’s something we expected and still messed up on. We’ve got to get better.”

The Warriors didn’t let the deficit phase them, as they marched down the field behind big plays from Pate, Tre Roberson and Jarrett Crockett. But it was J.B. Mitchell who shined on the drive. He had one reception for 19 yards and then capped the drive off with a 14-yard touchdown catch to even the score at 14-14 with 4:28 to play.

After a chaotic few series with confusion from the officials and fumbles from both Mountain Brook and Thompson recovered by the opposing defense, the Spartans eventually ended up in another third-down situation.

This time it was third-and-16 from the Thompson 44-yard line, but there was no panic in Gibbs. Even when the pocket broke down, Gibbs kept his cool and took off running hoping for the best. He ended up not only getting enough for the first down, but ended up making a few tacklers miss on his way to a strong 44-yard touchdown.

That put the Spartans in front 21-14 with 7:44 to play, and it looked as if the Warriors, who had allowed 10 successful third down conversions in 14 attempts to that point, weren’t going to be able to pull off the comeback victory.

But just three plays into the ensuing drive, and Pate said not so fast. He hit Reynolds for a 59-yard touchdown pass up the Spartans’ side line that floated beautifully to the speedy receiver to tie the game at 21-21 with 6:40 to play.

The Warriors’ defense then answered the bell with that momentum swing, and knew one stop would give them a chance at the win.

After forcing a three-and-out, for the first time since the first half, Thompson’s offense quickly went back to work and got the big plays from Pettway and Gaiters on the ensuing drive to take the lead for good. 

“We had limited possessions in the first half,” Freeman said. “Going into the game, we wanted to avoid that. I think we had just three drives in the first half, but in the second half, we were able to do some different things and got a couple more possessions than them. That was big for us to be able to pull this one out.”

Thompson was led by Gaiters running the football, as he posted 104 yards on 13 carries with two touchdowns. Pate finished the night 17-of-24 for 240 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

The receiving corps was led by Reynolds with 92 yards, thanks in large part to his big 59-yard touchdown catch. Mitchell finished with 87 yards on five catches, while Mike Pettway had 48 yards on four receptions.

Thompson will now take on Hewitt-Trussville to close out the regular season on Friday, Oct. 25, before having a bye week to prepare for the 2019 postseason. Thanks to winning the region title for the second time in three years, the Warriors will have home field advantage to start the postseason.

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