Thompson’s spirited comeback not enough as Clay-Chalkville wins in final seconds

Published 11:08 pm Thursday, September 28, 2023

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

ALABASTER – Just when the Thompson Warriors looked like they were down for good, they came back fighting.

The Warriors led an explosive comeback attempt after finding themselves down 36-26 with just 1:22 remaining. Even after a Kolby Hearn touchdown and a successful onside kick, Thompson fell just short on a field goal attempt on the final play as the Clay-Chalkville Cougars walked out of Warrior Stadium with a 36-33 win on Thursday, Sept. 28 in an ESPN2-televised contest.

“You don’t ever want to lose, but we learned something tonight,” Thompson coach Mark Freeman said. “You always have to learn something from your failures, and we’ve got to get back four, five, six plays, we have to make them. We grew up tonight and we have to continue to get better to be a football team that will be there competing at the end of the season. We’ve got to get better, and tonight was a step forward for us.”

After Cougars quarterback and Alabama commit Jaylen Mbakwe’s fifth touchdown of the game, Thompson immediately responded on the second play of its drive on the Warriors 25 with a shot from Trent Seaborn to Kolby Hearn.

Hearn juggled the ball up the middle and made a long run to score the 75-yard touchdown and inject life back into Warrior Stadium.

Now down just three, the Warriors knew they needed an onside kick to stay in the game, and John Allen McGuire did just that as Anquon Fegans grabbed the ball to set up Thompson on the Cougars 45.

A first down catch from Hearn on the opening play led to a Seaborn run on the next play to move the chains again, but a delay of game call took time off the clock and pushed back the Warriors for the ensuing field goal attempt, which missed as time expired.

While the Warriors trailed in the fourth quarter, they were in control for the first part of the game.

After an opening three-and-out from Thompson, the Warriors got the ball right back on the third play of the Cougars’ first drive as Peyton Davis got an interception in the second straight game.

Now with great field position on the Cougars 33, Trent Seaborn and the Warriors offense looked to strike quickly. After a first play shot to the 5-yard line fell incomplete, Seaborn found Deuce Oliver along the sideline on third down for a great throw and catch on the 8-yard line.

From there, AJ Green ran the ball in from seven yards out to put the Warriors up 6-0 just four minutes into the game after the ensuing PAT was blocked.

The Cougars punted on the next drive after gaining a first down, and Thompson strung together a lengthy drive as the Warriors marched towards the end zone.

Thompson converted two fourth downs during the drive, the first on a pass from Seaborn to Oliver, and the second on the ground. That gave Colben Landrew the chance to catch a touchdown up the middle from Seaborn to cap off the 61-yard drive.

With the Warriors now up 13-0 with a minute remaining in the first, Clay-Chalkville needed a spark to stay in the game. The Cougars got just that as the running game was unlocked by improved play by the offensive line.

The pile pushed the Cougars to a third down conversion, and then a checkdown from Mbakwe to Aaron Osley led to a big gain that would have been bigger had it not been for Anquon Fegans’ run to the sideline for the stop.

Mbakwe would later run to the 4-yard line, but a 3rd-and-goal stop nearly kept the Cougars out of the end zone. However, the line pushed Clay into the end zone on fourth down to cut the lead to 13-7.

Thompson quickly punted on its next drive as the Clay defense started finding its rhythm, and the Cougars drive looked a lot like the previous one. An Mbakwe run got the Cougars inside the five after a third down conversion, and he scored on a short punch-in touchdown to give Clay-Chalkville the 14-13 lead going into halftime.

After the Cougars got the ball again out of the locker room, they took off half of the time in the third quarter with a run-heavy drive powered by Mbakwe and his offensive line.

However, when he was forced into a third down passing situation, Jayden Davis got the sack to force a punt.

Thompson responded with another explosive passing play, as Hearn took advantage of blown coverage to grab another deep ball from Seaborn to score a 64-yard touchdown. Hearn finished the game as the team’s leading receiver with 164 yards and two touchdowns off just four catches.

After the two-point try to make up for lost extra points failed, the Warriors were up 19-14 with four minutes left in the third.

Mbakwe decided to test his arm again on third down in the Cougars’ next drive, and his decision to test five-star cornerback Fegans in coverage backfired as he intercepted the Clay quarterback.

The Warriors quickly took advantage of the growing momentum that they had with another long ball to Landrew, who made the catch despite defensive pass interference and took the ball in for a 45-yard touchdown.

With Thompson now up 26-14 late in the third quarter, Clay started the fourth with another big running drive. Aaron Osley had a long run to get on the 25-yard line, and Mbakwe would find the end zone on another 1-yard touchdown run to cut Thompson’s lead to 26-21.

The Cougars defense forced a three and out, and they took five minutes off the clock while setting up Mbakwe for a 6-yard touchdown run. His two-point conversion to offensive lineman Jac’Qwon McRoy was good, putting the Cougars up, 29-26.

On third down for the Warriors on the next drive, Roderick Ivy jumped another long throw for an interception. Mbakwe reeled off a 30-yard run to start the drive, and he finished it off with a 19-yard touchdown run after an offside call on Thompson on third down.

That then led to the Thompson comeback attempt, but the Warriors fell short to Clay-Chalkville, 36-33, after a great effort from both teams.

Trent Seaborn went 14-for-25 with 268 yards and four touchdowns, two to Hearn and the other two to Landrew. Both of Landrew’s catches were for touchdowns as he earned 55 receiving yards. Oliver also had 47 receiving yards off six catches. AJ Green rushed for 46 yards and a touchdown off 14 carries.

On defense, Trent Cheatom led the Warriors with eight tackles, and Kaleb Harris and Jayden Davis each had four tackles. The Warriors’ defense also earned two interceptions, one from Peyton Davis and the other from Fegans.

After the game, Freeman tipped his cap to Mbakwe and the Cougars for being a skilled team, but he was proud of his players for showing what they were made of with their backs against the wall.

“The things that we control is our effort and the way we play the game,” Freeman said. “I think our kids played the game with a lot of effort, a lot of heart. We never quit. We had a chance to quit, pout, go the sidelines and pout, but we didn’t. We kept battling. I’m proud of our kids and that game will go a long way for us.”

Thompson will hit the road next week for the first of back-to-back road games. The Warriors will face the No. 6-ranked Hewitt-Trussville Huskies on Oct. 6 in a game that could decide the region championship.