Super 7 Prediction: Thompson faces familiar foe Central-Phenix City under Bryant-Denny lights

Published 1:39 pm Thursday, November 30, 2023

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

This is the game that the Thompson Warriors have worked towards all season. One more game to accomplish their goal of a state championship, and one more game to make history as the first Alabama school to win five straight state championships.

To do that, however, they will need to face a familiar foe, the top-ranked team in the state and arguably the greatest challenge to their title reign yet: the Central-Phenix City Red Devils in the Class 7A state championship game on Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

For four of the last six seasons, Central has stood at the finish line for Thompson as the last hurdle to clear before winning the state championship, and each of the last three times, the Warriors have come out victorious.

However, this may be one of the best Central teams the Warriors have faced.

Patrick Nix’s side has some of the top players in the state, including five-star Texas A&M commit Cameron Coleman and three-star junior Daylyn Upshaw at receiver and a pair of three-star future Alabama players in safety Rydarrius Morgan and defensive lineman Isaiah Faga.

The Red Devils have made the most of that talent too, scoring 44.6 points per game on offense and allowing just 12.1 points per game on the defensive side of the ball.

They’ve also hit their stride in the last three weeks before the playoffs, beating Davidson 63-21 in the first round, last year’s state runner-up Auburn 49-21 and a tricky Mary G. Montgomery team 21-7 in the semifinals.

All of that means that Thompson needs to play its best football game of the season, and potentially of the Mark Freeman era, to come out on top in this one.

While it will be difficult, Thompson absolutely has a solid chance to walk away victorious.

For one, the Warriors have succeeded on this stage each of the last four seasons. While some of their players are young, many of them have played on at least one, if not all four of the previous state championship teams. The bright lights of Bryant-Denny Stadium won’t faze them, and Freeman and his staff will do everything to prepare them for this moment.

When Thompson is on its A-game this season, it has been incredibly hard to stop. The Warriors have proven to be capable of carving up defenses in the air with Trent Seaborn under center and his talented group of receivers, including Kolby Hearn, Deuce Oliver, Colben Landrew and Angel Jones, as well as gaining big yards on the ground with AJ Green and Michael Dujon.

On defense, Anquon Fegans and Kaleb Harris have become two of the top pass defenders in not just the state, but arguably the nation as their skills in coverage have been top-notch all year long, and when the pass rush hits on third down, it hits hard and shuts down drives.

The only problem is over the last couple of weeks, Thompson struggled coming out of the gate against Vestavia Hills and Hewitt-Trussville, and the Warriors needed to adjust later in the game to grab the lead for good.

It’s something that Freeman noted after both of those games and was apparent when watching them.

But on the other hand, those games show that Thompson is a resilient team that can overcome the challenges that they face. The Warriors have succeeded at nearly every step of the season, and even in their lone loss to Clay-Chalkville, they almost came back for the win. There is every reason to believe that the Warriors can do it one more time on the biggest stage.

It starts with locking down Coleman with Fegans and Harris, and the secondary will need to take away Central’s options in the passing game to limit its impact in the air. If the Warriors bring the pressure on third down like they have in the last few weeks, they will succeed in getting off the field without taking much damage.

Then, on the other side of the ball, Seaborn and the offense need to string together solid drives and find the end zone not just on big plays, but on lengthier drives like in the semifinals against Hewitt-Trussville.

But even more than that, Thompson needs to be consistent across all 48 minutes. If they come out of the gate slow, the Warriors may have a harder time coming from behind against Central. But if they give their best effort and play their brand of football, Thompson is battle-tested and dangerous enough to make history and continue the dynasty. Thompson 35, Central-Phenix City 28.