Thompson flips switch at half to beat Vestavia Hills in quarterfinals

Published 11:23 pm Friday, November 17, 2023

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By STEPHEN DAWKINS| Special to the Reporter

ALABASTER – Thompson exploded out of the locker room to start the second half against Vestavia Hills on Friday, Nov. 17, as the Warriors scored 20 unanswered points to break open a halftime deadlock and win, 34-14.

“For whatever reason, we needed to get to halftime and make a couple of adjustments,” Thompson coach Mark Freeman said. “When we did, we said ‘let’s go score on the first possession and win the game.’ Our plan was to play the first half tight like that and then come out in the second half and do what we do.”

The second-round playoff win keeps alive Thompson’s hopes for a fifth consecutive state championship. THS (10-1) next will host Hewitt-Trussville in the semifinals on Nov. 24, following the Huskies’ 40-7 win over Hoover.

Against Vestavia (9-3), the Warriors were hampered by penalties in the first half. They managed just four first downs, giving the visitors hope that they might break through and advance past the second round for the first time since 2013.

The teams traded punts to start the game, but Vestavia quarterback John Paul Head jump-started the Rebels’ second possession with his arm and his legs as he took a 38-yard run all the way to Thompson’s 3-yard line.

Head then punched it in from the 1 for the first score of the game. Owen Simpson’s extra point made it 7-0 with 6:17 on the clock in the first quarter.

The hosts wasted no time in answering. On the second play of the ensuing possession, Kolby Hearn got past his defender, and quarterback Trent Seaborn hit him in stride for a 72-yard touchdown pass. John Allen McGuire’s point-after was good to tie the game at 7-7.

Thompson’s Tyler Hicks and Curtis Oliver-Avery combined to make a third down stop on Vestavia’s next possession, and the Rebels punted it back to THS.

Seaborn carved up the VHHS defense to grab the lead for the Warriors, moving the sticks on passes to Deuce Oliver and Hearn, then finding Angel Jones, who outraced the defense to the front left pylon for the touchdown.

McGuire’s extra point made it 14-7 with 15 seconds left in the first quarter.

Head responded with an impressive touchdown drive of his own, converting a third-and-1 on the ground, then passing to Keown Richardson and Cooper Mollison for first downs before heaving one to the end zone that Mollison ran under and held onto the ball in the end zone despite a hit from a Thompson defender.

The game was tied again and would remain so until the second half as penalties derailed two THS drives, and a third-down sack by Thompson’s Chance Strown helped keep Vestavia from threatening the end zone.

The Warriors needed just 1:24 to take the lead for good at the start of the third quarter. Two Seaborn passes, to Hearn and Oliver, advanced the ball to Vestavia’s 35-yard line, and then AJ Green ran it to the 22.

On third-and-1 from the 13, Green took a handoff up the middle, broke through a couple of would-be tacklers and glided into the end zone to make it 21-14.

Thompson added to its lead with a 23-yard field goal by McGuire with 1:33 left in the third quarter, and then another field goal—this one from 29 yards out—to make it 27-14 about one minute into the fourth quarter.

The Thompson defense was flexing at this point in the game, forcing two three-and-outs and a turnover on downs on Vestavia’s second-half possessions.

Anquon Fegans added an exclamation mark with an interception, and Cam Pritchett added another with a sack on a third down.

The scoring concluded on a long pass from Seaborn to Colben Landrew that the sophomore standout grabbed over the top of the defender to make it 34-14.

Seaborn had another phenomenal night passing the ball, going 15-for-20 for 291 yards and three touchdowns while finishing a couple points shy of a perfect passing rating at 156.3.

Hearn was his top target, catching three passes for 114 yards and a touchdown for an average of 38 yards per reception. Jones had 63 yards and a touchdown off two catches and Oliver had seven receptions for 56 yards.

Green led all rushers with 129 yards and a touchdown off 16 carries, and Dujon had seven carries for 47 yards.

Thompson now leads the all-time series with Vestavia, 16-14, including the last 10 in a row.

The Warriors also kept alive another streak: not allowing more than 14 points in any game this season other than their lone loss.