Thompson makes adjustments to beat Hewitt-Trussville, reach sixth straight state title game

Published 10:31 pm Friday, November 24, 2023

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

ALABASTER – The greatest teams are defined by how they respond to adversity, and for the second straight week, the Thompson Warriors faced challenges early on from a tough opponent.

Last game, it was a 14-14 first half tie with Vestavia Hills that led to 20 unanswered points and a win. This time, it was a 10-0 early deficit that Thompson overcame with 21 straight points for the victory.

Because of that, Thompson is in the 7A state championship game for the sixth straight season after beating the Hewitt-Trussville Huskies 21-10 on Nov. 24 at home for the right to face Central-Phenix City for their fifth straight state title. And it’s all because of their adjustments.

“We just needed to get our composure,” Thompson coach Mark Freeman said. “We’re getting better. We’re young in a couple of spots, and we had to regain our composure at halftime. We talked about last week, it was 14-14. This week, it’s 14-10. ‘Let’s go play a second half, just like we played last week.’ And I thought I thought we did.”

After Hewitt received the opening kickoff, the Warriors nearly got off the field early in the drive, but a defensive pass interference call on third down gave the Huskies a fresh set of downs.

That was all Hewitt needed to extend the drive as Peyton Floyd orchestrated a solid series that lasted over five minutes and got them into the red zone.

However, Thompson’s defense held firm on third down at the 10, and Hewitt was forced to kick a 28-yard field goal to give the Huskies a 3-0 lead with 6:39 left in the first quarter.

The Warriors got the running game going early, but after gaining some momentum with a first down, a dead ball personal foul then led to a fumble off a missed handoff.

While Hewitt recovered the fumble, Thompson’s defense stepped up and forced a three-and-out in plus territory.

After a first down catch by Angel Jones got the ensuing Warriors drive off to a positive start, Thompson stalled out at midfield and couldn’t convert the fourth-and-short run to start the second quarter.

Hewitt took full advantage of the midfield positioning off the turnover on downs with a strong drive capped off by a Floyd rushing touchdown to extend the lead to 10-0 with 8:43 left in the half.

Thompson needed a spark after falling behind, and it got just that on the next play.

Kaleb Harris brought the ensuing kickoff back to the Warriors 45, and his electric run led to Thompson’s first touchdown of the night.

AJ Green ran for a first down, and then Seaborn hit Kolby Hearn for a first down pass a couple of plays later. Once Deuce Oliver set up the Warriors with a first and goal, Green capped the drive with a rushing touchdown to cut the Hewitt lead to 10-7.

The Warriors defense brought the pressure on the Huskies’ next drive with a tackle for a loss of five on the opening play and a Peyton Lewis pass breakup on third down to force a punt.

Thompson utilized its starting position on the Huskies 38 for a quick drive. Seaborn hit Hearn at the 12-yard line, and then a couple of plays later, he called his own number for a rushing touchdown, and Thompson flipped a 10-0 deficit into a 14-10 lead with 1:41 left in the second quarter.

The Warriors had a brief scare on the ensuing drive with a roughing the passer penalty, but a third down pass breakup by Anquon Fegans ensured Thompson got out unscathed, and the teams traded punts before the half.

Fegans then kicked off the second half with a return to the Warriors 44, and that helped Thompson keep rolling to start the third quarter.

A third down conversion by Oliver combined with a Hewitt face mask penalty put the Warriors on the 27. After Green got the ball to the 3-yard line, he punched it in himself from the 1 to increase Thompson’s lead to 21-10 with 8:34 left in the third quarter.

After the teams traded three-and-outs, Hewitt embarked on another lengthy drive that took nearly the rest of the quarter.

Floyd got a first down pass to the right side on third down and then led a balanced attack of passing and quarterback runs. The Huskies converted a 4th-and-1 run, and then Floyd ran past the chains on a later third down to turn up the pressure on Thompson.

However, Harris blew up the backfield with a sack on first down that spelled the beginning of the end for Hewitt. The Warriors stopped a fourth down shot by Floyd, and a pack of defenders led by Harris got the Thompson defense off the field with 13 seconds left in the third.

The defense kept the stops coming even after Thompson was forced into a pair of punts. First, the Warriors recovered from a pair of third-down conversion runs to get another turnover on downs in their own territory.

Then, after allowing a fourth down conversion earlier in the drive, the Warriors stopped the Huskies on fourth down with 1:55 left in the game as Fegans picked off a downfield shot by Floyd to seal the game and a spot in the state title game.

After the game, Freeman tipped his cap to Floyd, who he called a future Division I player, but he also gave a lot of credit to his team for recovering from a messy start to beat one of the best teams in the state.

“I thought we played really good,” Freeman said. “We didn’t play perfect. But you’re not going to play perfect in these situations. And to get a win, against that football team, I give them a lot of credit. They’ve done a good job over there, but I give my coaches and players a lot of credit and I thank Jesus Christ for this win.”

Green had 91 yards off 31 carries for two touchdowns, and Seaborn went 18-for-24 passing for 152 yards in addition to his rushing touchdown. Oliver was his top receiver with 11 catches for 92 yards.

On defense, Harris led the Warriors with 12 tackles, eight solo tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss and a pass deflection. Vini Pires had 11 tackles, with nine solo tackles, Hicks had eight tackles and Fegans had an interception, a forced fumble, seven tackles and two pass break-ups. Chance Strown also recorded a sack.

Next up for the Warriors, they will face the top-ranked team in Class 7A, the Central-Phenix City Red Devils, on Wednesday, Dec. 6 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa for the 7A state championship.

Freeman knows his team will be in for a challenge, but right after the game, he didn’t want to look too far ahead and just wanted to savor the win.

“We’ve played them before and they’ve got great athletes,” Freeman said. “They’ve got a great team. Coach Nix does a great job with those guys.

“But you know what? We’re going to enjoy this for a little bit. I think we lost last week some of the enjoyment, and we’ve got to enjoy this one for a little bit, 24 hours, and go get ready. But when we go to Tuscaloosa, we’ll have our team ready to play the best game we can play and go get after it.”