Thompson finishes strong in fourth quarter to overcome Vestavia Hills

Published 9:57 pm Friday, September 8, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

ALABASTER – With time winding down and the Thompson Warriors only leading the Vestavia Hills Rebels 7-3 midway through the fourth quarter, it felt like the game hung in the balance in a battle of two of the top five teams in Alabama.

The Warriors did what they often do in clutch moments and delivered with the game on the line, and two late touchdowns and an interception sealed the deal on a 21-3 win at Warrior Stadium on Sept. 8.

Thompson coach Mark Freeman tipped his cap to Vestavia coach Robert Evans, quarterback John Paul Head, and the entire Rebels team as he recognized his team’s effort against a great opponent.

“I promise you this, all wins in this region are good,” Freeman said. “Rob and them did such a good job at Vestavia. Those kids play hard. And a one-point win is beautiful. So, I think it was a beautiful win.”

Vestavia opened the game with the ball and despite being held on both the run and the pass were able to move the chains. A backbreaking penalty moved the Rebels back, however, and the Warriors batted down a pass on third down to force a punt.

Once Thompson got the ball, the Warriors tried to establish the run and Trent Seaborn was getting comfortable passing the ball until he was picked off downfield by Jack Mayhall for Vestavia.

The next play, Thompson returned the favor with an interception from Jayden Davis to give the Warriors the ball right back.

Seaborn capitalized early in the drive in Rebels territory as he spotted Colben Landrew in stride and hit him in the end zone with a perfect pass for a touchdown, which put Thompson up 7-0 with under 2:30 left in the first quarter.

From there, Vestavia embarked on a lengthy drive that took them over 15 plays and almost to the midway point of the second quarter. The Rebels offense was mostly held to short gains, but Head was able to pick up a fourth down conversion later in the drive to set his offense up well in Warriors territory.

He wasn’t so lucky on his second try at a fourth down conversion, as the Thompson defense stopped him at the eight-yard line to take the ball back on a turnover on downs.

AJ Green set off running the football on the next drive and was able to break past the line for some early gains. However, the momentum came to a halt as Thompson threw their second pick of the half on a deep shot to the eight-yard line.

Vestavia couldn’t take advantage and was forced to punt, and Thompson ran out the half to take a 7-0 lead into the break.

After the teams traded punts to open the half, Thompson looked to be moving along on offense thanks to a Deuce Oliver first down and a Vestavia personal foul, but a shot to the end zone drew offensive pass interference from Landrew.

Seaborn couldn’t link up with Kolby Hearn on fourth-and-11, and that forced a turnover on downs for the Warriors.

On the next play for Vestavia, Head launched a deep ball and earned a completion for 38 yards, but once the Rebels were on the Warriors 30, they stalled out.

On a crucial third down for Vestavia, Head turned his eyes to the end zone again, but Anquon Fegans made a leaping pass break-up to save a possible touchdown and force a field goal from Owen Simpson.

Now only up 7-3 and the game hanging in the balance with 3:42 left in the 3rd, Thompson picked up a couple of first downs before Kohen Nelson earned the Rebels’ third interception of the night and flipped the field.

Vestavia was forced to punt on the ensuing drive, and after Thompson responded with a punt, both teams had a sense of urgency that this was now or never.

The Rebels punted the ball back to Thompson from the back of their own end zone, setting up Seaborn and the offense with seven minutes to go.

Seaborn missed Landrew on a jump ball in the end zone, but they didn’t miss twice as the freshman quarterback found the basketball star up the middle on a short touchdown catch.

It seemed to be exactly the play that Thompson needed, and with the Warriors now up 14-3 with 5:41 to go, they took advantage of the momentum.

Shortly into the Vestavia drive, Kaleb Harris picked off Head in Warriors territory and returned the ball to the Rebels nine-yard line.

With Zach Sims coming in under center, he earned a short touchdown run with under three minutes to go, which put an exclamation on a 21-3 win for the Warriors.

After the game, Freeman recognized that his team didn’t play perfect even though they ended up on top, and he knows with such a young team at multiple positions, they need to work on some aspects of their game going forward.

“I feel like we need to learn something every week,” Freeman said. “We’re young, and every time that we can go out and play and learn something against a different opponent is a blessing.”

Trent Seaborn finished 17-for-26 passing for 167 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions, although a couple of the interceptions were “not his fault,” in Freeman’s eyes. His top receiver was Landrew with 81 yards off five receptions and six targets, including the two touchdowns. Oliver had 66 yards off nine catches.

AJ Green dominated the rushing game as Thompson went to the run at many points in the contest. He finished with 134 yards off 27 carries with an average of five yards per carry.

Thompson improved to 2-0 with their first region win and will face Spain Park in an in-county matchup on the road next week on Sept. 15.