Thompson snaps Clay-Chalkville’s 20-game win streak in battle of defending champs

Published 11:02 pm Friday, September 23, 2022

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

ALABASTER – With their backs on the goal line and visiting Clay-Chalkville on the 4-yard line facing fourth-and-2 and a 17-14 deficit, the Thompson defense looked for one more big stop to cap off a dominant game in the trenches.

On a night where the front seven was in the backfield for the majority of the game, the Warriors stood tall one more time with a tackle for loss that forced a turnover on downs with 2:23 to play.

The Warriors did end up having to punt it back to the Cougars one more time with 1:18 to play, but on the first play of the ensuing drive, the defense did it again when Jake Ivie sealed the game with an interception.

That final play was the stamp on a 17-14 victory that snapped a 20-game win streak for Clay-Chalkville and gave Thompson a win over the No. 1 6A team in a battle of defending state champs.

“I’m proud of our kids,” head coach Mark Freeman said after the victory. “I’m proud of the way they responded tonight. We had some negative plays that we bounced back from. Good teams will bounce back from negative plays. They played 48 minutes, and that’s a good football team we played. I’m proud of our players and coaches tonight.”

With two defenses that have been dominant throughout the season, that was the story early, particularly from the Warriors and something that continued throughout.

Thompson forced four consecutive three-and-outs for Clay-Chalkville to start the game and was dominant for all but a minute of the opening half.

That allowed the offense to capitalize early.

On the fifth play of the second drive, he busted through the middle and sped away from the Clay defense for a 56-yard touchdown to give Thompson a 7-0 advantage with 7:05 left in the first quarter.

The Warriors, however, also missed early opportunities.

On Clay-Chalkville’s opening drive of the game, the defense forced a quick turnover on a Peter Woods fumble recovery that gave Thompson’s offense the ball at the Cougars’ 14-yard line.

A false start, however, put them in third-and-12 and eventually led to a missed field goal.

The defense, however, only allowed two first downs through the first six drives of the game.

That gave Thompson another chance very early in the second quarter, but more mistakes became costly.

After earning first-and-goal, they looked to have a touchdown following one negative play when Zach Sims hit Kolby Hearn for a 15-yard touchdown, but a hold negated it and set up second-and-goal from the 33-yard line.

Thompson did get 15 yards back on a pass to Korby Williams, which allowed the Warriors to salvage points with a 35-yard field goal from John McGuire.

That made it 10-0 with 10:47 left in the half.

It looked like that was going to be the halftime score as Thompson got near midfield two more times but never could add to the lead.

Clay, however, was able to put together its first big play of the night on its final drive of the half.

The Cougars got the ball back with 1:29 left in the half and took advantage when quarterback Kamari McClellan hit Mario Craver, who made one man miss and went 37 yards to the house for a touchdown that made it 10-7 at the break.

It was much of the same in the second half, as it started very similar to the first.

Thompson was forced to punt on its opening drive of the period, but on Clay’s first play of the second half, Woods chased down a play that was going to put the Cougars deep in THS territory but instead ended with another fumble to give the ball back to the Warriors.

That became the first of two turnovers in the third quarter for Thompson, as Anquon Fegans picked off one of two interceptions on the night a couple of drives later. He also had a fumble recovery.

“He’s a tremendous player,” Freeman said of Fegans. “Big plays are made by big players in big games. He just works every day. You know, those guys who work every day just have a way of finding the ball so I’m proud of him. He’s such a great person. It’s such a blessing to see good people happen to good people and Anquon is one of the finest players we’ve got.”

And this time, Thompson capitalized on his defensive play.

After Sims hit Deuce Oliver for a 20-yard touchdown, Green finished off the drive with a 21-yard touchdown run that put Thompson in front 17-7 with 3:23 left in the third quarter.

Green finished the night with 28 carries for 149 yards and two touchdowns.

“AJ has played so well for us,” Freeman said. “He ran the ball hard tonight. We feel like if we give AJ the ball enough times, good things will happen.”

Clay, however, was able to hit one more big play early in the fourth quarter that went for 77 yards and a touchdown to bring the score to 17-14 with 9:26 to play.

That seemingly gave the Cougars all of the momentum, but while Thompson’s offense never could put the game away against a defense giving up 7.8 points per game, the Warriors never made a crucial mistake offensively, which allowed the defense to continue making plays.

Over the final nine minutes, they came up big in several facets of the game, forcing a three-and-out, a defensive stand inside the 5 and an interception to cement the win, and all with two key players out.

“I’m so proud of the guys who stepped in tonight and assumed that role,” Freeman said. “You talk about next man up and all that stuff, but those guys who filled in did such a great job tonight. That’s how you build great teams is when you have people who step in and do things that they haven’t been asked to. The defense played their guts out and have all year.”

Thompson’s defense forced three fumbles, recovered two fumbles and had the two interceptions from Fegans, while the Warriors held Clay to 1-for-16 on third down attempts and allowed 281 yards of offense to a team averaging more than 45 points per game.

“I don’t know how good we are, I know Clay is a really good football team, but I know that was really a good high school football game right there between two pretty good teams,” Freeman said. “You’ve got champion blood on both sides, and neither one of us was going to die.”

Kelby Taylor led the Warriors with seven tackles, while Woods added five with the two forced fumbles and Fegans had four with the two interceptions.

Freeman was also complimentary of Sims’ effort at quarterback during the win after not making any crucial mistakes and finishing 16-23 for 137 yards.

“I was proud of Zach tonight,” Freeman said after. “Zach made a lot of decisions that not many people will recognize. He played a really good game tonight.”

The Warriors also got 63 receiving yards from Oliver in the victory.

Now, Thompson will host Hewitt-Trussville in a big region showdown on Sept. 30. The Huskies are 4-2 (2-1), while Thompson is 4-2 (3-0).

“We have a big, big, big game coming up next week with Trussville, so we have to get ready for another region game, and it’s all about your region games. We have to get ourselves ready after tomorrow night to go play another tough region game.”