Thompson earns 5th consecutive trip to semifinals, will get rematch with Hoover

Published 10:31 pm Friday, November 12, 2021

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor 

ALABASTER – For the fifth year in a row, the Thompson Warriors are headed to the semifinals of the Class 7A playoffs following another impressive outing in a rematch against Oak Mountain on Friday, Nov. 12.

Following a 48-0 victory against the Eagles on Oct. 15, Thompson handled the rematch in similar fashion with a 45-7 victory.

“It’s a testament to our coaches, our program and everything when we got here seven years ago that we were trying to do,” head coach Mark Freeman said. “We’re blessed. It’s amazing when you stop and look back, you know, from where we were to where this journey is going. I’m just proud of our kids, and it’s a testament to (Superintendent) Dr. (Wayne) Vickers making a commitment to letting us bring coaches in here and having great players and parents who support us. I’m just happy for them.”

Outside of one scoring drive from the Eagles, Thompson handled the game from start to finish, outgaining the Oak Mountain 536-177.

It was a strong first six minutes for the Thompson offense, as the Warriors struck quickly on back-to-back drives.

They took the opening drive and put together a methodical 10 plays with several runs from Justin Pegues, Ryan Peppins and Brandon Franklin, before Pegues made his first big play of the night.

The senior running back busted up the middle on fourth-and-1 that not only gave Thompson its second fourth-down conversion of the drive, but ended with him running 32 yards to the house for a 7-0 advantage with 8:05 to play in the opening quarter.

Thompson’s defense then forced a quick three-and-out and gave it right back to the offense.

This time, it looked more like Thompson with a quick one-play strike.

Quarterback Zach Sims floated a perfect ball to Jaylen Ward streaming up the home sideline for a 64-yard score and a 14-0 advantage.

At that point, Oak Mountain knew a score was necessary to avoid a possible early three-touchdown deficit.

The Eagles put together a 10-play drive of their own, including several big runs from Evan Smith and three clutch passes. The first two passes went for 18 yards to Ethan Hammett on third-and-7 in their own territory and for 15 yards to Cade George to set up a 17-yard touchdown pass to Hammett.

That brought the Eagles to within a touchdown at 14-7 with 2:10 left in the opening quarter.

“Evan Smith is one of the best football players we’ve ever coached against,” Freeman said. “They had some momentum, and we knew they would have some plays like that. They had a little bit different of a scheme. He threw the ball better than a lot of people thought he could. We knew he could throw the ball.”

From there, however, Oak Mountain couldn’t find the same offensive rhythm despite opportunities.

Early in the second quarter, the Eagles forced a turnover on downs, but couldn’t capitalize, going three-and-out.

Thompson, however, did capitalize with a 54-yard pass to Ward shortly after that set up a 12-yard pass from Sims to Peppins for a 21-7 lead with 8:33 left in the half.

The Eagles again forced a turnover on downs on Thompson’s next drive, giving them the ball at the Warriors’ 48 with 4:10 left in the half looking to cut it to a one-score game.

A holding, however, eventually forced third-and-20, before the drive ended on a fumble from Smith.

Thompson capitalized once more by driving down into field goal range to set up Trevor Hardy with a 43-yard field goal in the final seconds to make it 24-7 at the half.

Then, in the second half, Thompson continued to create separation, but did so with a welcome sight to the field in the return of Conner Harrell at quarterback.

The senior left the Hoover game three weeks ago with a hurt thumb and the Warriors in front 21-10, but without his return, they went on to lose that one 24-21.

Thompson went on to win the first playoff game without him, but Freeman said they wanted Harrell to get some reps before the semifinals.

At some point, we wanted to get Conner in before next week and get him some reps,” Freeman said. “I can’t say enough about what Zach has done for us the last couple weeks. It starts with the defense keeping us where Zach didn’t have to play under pressure, and they did a good job of that.”

But after an Oak Mountain three-and-out to start the second half, Harrell stepped in and led a scoring drive for the Warriors that was capped off by a 10-yard touchdown run from Franklin to make it 31-7 with 6:25 left in the third.

Thompson’s defense continued to play lights out, not giving up another score, while Harrell hit Bo Jones for a 35-yard touchdown early in the fourth to extend the lead.

The exclamation point then came when AJ Green rumbled 31 yards to the end zone, breaking several tackles along the way to bring the game to the final score of 45-7.

Sims finished the game 11-16 for 191 yards and two touchdowns, while Harrell was 10-13 for 111 yards and one touchdown. Pegues totaled 127 rushing yards with a touchdown, while Ward finished with 153 yards and a touchdown on four receptions.

Peter Woods led the defense with four tackles on a balanced night.

Now, Thompson will head to the Hoover Met on Friday, Nov. 19 for a rematch with No. 1 Hoover in a battle of the top-two teams. The Bucs beat Hewitt-Trussville 24-23 in overtime to earn their trip.

“Next Friday night at this time, we’ve got to play somebody, and it doesn’t really matter who it is,” Freeman said. “We have to play our best game regardless. You can’t get caught up in all the hoopla. It still boils down to blocking, tackling, special teams.”

Oak Mountain was led by Smith with 123 yards passing and 43 yards rushing, while Hammett finished with 68 receiving yards and a score on five receptions.