Thompson beats No. 2 Hoover, repeats as region champs
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor
ALABASTER – Hoover came into Warrior Stadium on Friday, Oct. 23, hoping to get revenge for three straight losses, but No. 1 Thompson didn’t flinch in a 39-23 win over the No. 2 Buccaneers to repeat as Class 7A, Region 3 champions.
As the defending state champs, Thompson (10-0, 6-0) will now enter the postseason as the No. 1 seed from the region, meaning they’ll have home field advantage throughout the postseason.
“Region titles are good, that’s what we came here to establish that we were going to be among the best this year in the region,” head coach Mark Freeman said.
Entering the game, many expected an offensive shootout with two teams scoring 40 points per game or more, but that didn’t take into account two defenses that were giving up 16 points per game or less, and both showed out early in the game.
Thompson kicked it off with an opening three-and-out, which led to a strong offensive drive. It didn’t come as easy as it has most of the season, but the Warriors went on a methodical 10-play drive that took up five minutes of game time, before Jarrett Crockett powered into the end zone from 2 yards out for a 7-0 advantage.
Hoover, however, answered back with a long, physical drive of its own. After converting on a fourth-and-2 near midfield, the Bucs scored shortly after on a 3-yard touchdown run from Jaylen Taylor to cap off a 10-play drive and even the score at the end of the first quarter.
Thompson then looked primed for another strong drive, going 79 yards in 11 plays, but the Warriors needed 80 yards. The earned first and goal from the 1-yard line, but couldn’t convert, and eventually faced fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line.
That’s when Conner Harrell threw his second interception of the season, as Hoover prevented the touchdown.
The Bucs got down to the Thompson 11-yard line, but the Warriors’ defense answered the call with a big defensive stop to hold Hoover to a field goal, as the Buccaneers went up 10-7.
But J.B. Mitchell, who had been bottled up to that point, made his impact felt on the ensuing drive. After catching a pass from Harrell near the sideline, he made a spin move, turned up field, sprinted back inside, then cut back through two defenders to cap off a tremendous 65-yard touchdown.
Following a missed extra point, Thompson was on top 13-10.
Following a Hoover punt on the ensuing drive, the Bucs got the ball back quickly by forcing Harrell’s second interception of the night.
“He’s growing up, you know,” Freeman said of his junior quarterback. “They did a lot of things on defense. We knew they would. He needed that game. Fortunately, he’s learning and we’re winning while he’s learning. I thought he hung in there, and that night will go a long way for Conner Harrell.”
But this time, Gavin Shipman answered back in a monster way. The defensive back jumped a route in the secondary and took a pick-6 80 yards to the house. The Warriors missed another PAT, but the interception came in the final 40 seconds, leading to a 19-10 halftime lead.
“That was a huge play,” Freeman said. “He played really well for us tonight, and I’m just proud of our defense. They hung us in there all night. They played their brains out. I’m proud of those guys.”
And the Warriors added to it coming out of the halftime break with an ideal 80-yard drive that was highlighted by two 19-yard catches from Ryan Peppins and a 1-yard score from Crockett.
“I thought we came out with great intensity,” Freeman said of the second half. “We had to move some kids around this week, and the kids that were in there responded well. I’m proud of our coaches, they did a great job of getting them prepared this week.”
Hoover ended up missing a field goal on the ensuing drive, but then Thompson gave them hope with a fumble that ended with a scoop-and-score touchdown to make it 26-16 with 6:07 left in the third quarter.
But Thompson responded with yet another 8-yard drive in the half. This time, Harrell hit Mitchell for the second time in the game for a wide open 14-yard touchdown that extended the Warriors’ lead to 33-16.
Hoover was able to get within 10 points with 8:42 to play, but Thompson responded with one last touchdown to put the game on ice when Crockett ran over a Bucs’ defender at the goal line for the game’s final touchdown in the 39-23 victory.
While Harrell did throw two interceptions, he added two touchdown passes and was 28-of-34 for 301 yards. His favorite target was Mitchell, who finished with 113 yards and both touchdown passes. Crockett led the rushing attack with 115 yards and three touchdowns.
Thompson will have a week off before the playoffs begin on Nov. 6.