Schedule Breakdown: Thompson prepares for big names and tough region

Published 9:30 am Monday, August 7, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

It’s a new year, but it’s the same goal for the Thompson Warriors: win a state championship.

They have accomplished that goal in each of the last four seasons, and to reach it again, they will take a familiar path through one of the toughest regions in the nation in Class 7A, Region 3.

Joining their regional foes on the schedule include two state heavyweights in Clay-Chalkville and as well as one the biggest tests this Thompson program has faced in national powerhouse IMG Academy.

While this schedule is one of the toughest that coach Mark Freeman’s side has faced to this point, historically, these tests have proven to only make Thompson stronger in their quest for another trophy.

First, Thompson will travel to Montgomery to face Opelika in the AHSAA Kickoff Classic at the Cramton Bowl on Aug. 25. The Bulldogs have historically been a strong team in Class 7A, as they won Region 2 in 2021 before making the third round of the playoffs, but they had a rough 5-5 season last year. While Thompson will likely prove to be a level above Opelika, they can’t afford to take any game for granted.

Then, Thompson will welcome IMG Academy to Alabaster on Thursday, Aug. 31. While the Warriors are no strangers to facing nationally ranked opponents, the Ascenders are on another level as the 2020 national champions from Florida are the number four team in the country in MaxPreps’ preseason rankings. This will be the toughest test of the season for Thompson and a great opportunity to see how they stack up against the top teams in the nation, as a great result here combined with another state championship could see the Warriors finish high in the final national rankings.

Afterwards, the Warriors will start region play at home against Vestavia Hills on Sept. 8. Vestavia has been one of the most improved teams in the region behind strong offensive play, but if Thompson’s defense plays up to their potential, they should be able to limit Vestavia again and avoid a shootout.

Next, Thompson will travel to Spain Park on Sept. 15. The Jags have the potential to be one of the surprise teams in the region this year, and they will be motivated to beat their county foes, but Thompson should be able to show their skill and control the game on the road.

Then, Thompson will host Chelsea on Sept. 22. The Warriors easily handled the Hornets last year in their first meeting as 7A regional opponents. Chelsea has grown and matured since that game, but Thompson will still likely be a step above them and show that on the field.

Afterwards, Thompson will face Clay-Chalkville on Thursday, Sept. 28 in a rematch of one of the games of the season last year. Thompson ended Clay’s 20-game win streak in a 17-14 thriller last year, and now the rematch will air on ESPN2 as the two perennial heavyweights clash once again.

After that brief break from region play, the Warriors will travel to Hewitt-Trussville on Oct. 6. Thompson has taken down the Huskies each of the last three years, and while offenses usually shine when these two teams meet, last year was all about defense in the Warriors’ 14-12 win. While this year likely won’t be a repeat of their last meeting, expect both sides of the ball to be strong as Thompson looks to take down another perennial playoff team.

Then, Thompson will travel to Heardmont Park to take on Oak Mountain on Oct. 13. The Eagles are in a rebuilding year with new coach Shane McComb, which combined with the fact that the Warriors shut out Oak Mountain last year, should favor Thompson in this matchup.

Afterwards, the Warriors will host Tuscaloosa County in their final home game of the regular season on Oct. 20. Thompson won last year’s meeting handily in Northport, and once again, they will meet the Wildcats as the season winds down and playoffs and region titles are on the Warriors’ mind. Thompson will need to remain focused on the matchup in front of them and not focus on what the future holds to avoid a closer game, but that has not been a problem in the past.

Finally, Thompson will travel to face their perennial rival Hoover on Oct. 27. Even though Thompson has won four straight state titles and have beat the Bucs in the semifinals each of the last five seasons, they lost to Hoover in the regular season in 2021 and 2022 to decide the region title. When perfection is the standard in Alabaster, losses like that sting even more. Expect Thompson to come out motivated to beat their rivals this year, regardless of if the regional title is at stake, while still keeping one eye on the postseason.

Thompson will take their bye week on Nov. 3, which if recent history repeats itself, will be a break to recharge ahead of a long postseason run. After a long and grueling run through the regular season, the Warriors will be battle-tested should they find themselves back in the 7A playoffs for the seventh straight year, and they will use the rest to prepare for more challenges to come.