The Thompson Warriors’ thorough 40-13 victory over Mountain Brook sent a message to the rest of Class 7A Region 3 competition. A matter-of-fact statement from Thompson High head coach Mark Freeman afterward made the performance just a bit more frightening for future opponents.
“We’re nowhere near where we need to be,” Freeman said. “We still got a long way to go.”
It’s hard to imagine a more complete effort than the Warriors put together on Friday night against a good Mountain Brook football. Pick an area – any area – and the Warriors had success.
On offense, quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa directed a unit that produced 510 yards on 55 plays with 256 coming through the air and 254 on the ground. Running back Shadrick Byrd and wide receiver Ahmad Harris-Edwards had starring roles. The defense harassed and bottled up a strong running game, which features major college prospect running back Harold Joiner, and kept the Spartans out of the end zone until the fourth quarter. Special teams played solid throughout the game.
Put all of that together and it was a marvelous evening for the Warriors (3-0 overall, 2-0 Class 7A Region 3). And it was the defense setting the tone on the opening possession of the game.
Mountain Brook’s first possession consisted of a 1-yard loss by quarterback Hamp Sisson and back-to-back runs by Joiner that netted just one yard. Linebacker Jalen Rayam made the tackle on each play with defensive lineman John Eric Mizell getting an assist on first down.
“It starts on defense,” Rayam said. “We knew as a defense we had to set the tone. That set the pace of the game and determines how the game is going to go. We just stayed on them the whole game.”
Freeman agreed the first defensive series for his team set the tone “100 percent.”
“Tonight, the defense had a chip on their shoulder,” Freeman said.
Rayam finished with a team-best 7.5 tackles while adding a sack, three tackles for loss and an interception. Fellow linebackers Will Conner (six tackles) and K.J. Robertson (4.5 tackles, one tackle for loss) also had big nights.
The first-team offense scored touchdown runs on all six of its possessions. Mountain Brook’s defense chose to make the Warriors beat them on the ground and Byrd was happy to oblige. Byrd gained all 56 of Thompson’s yards on the opening score, including a 36-yard burst for a touchdown. He had three touchdown runs in the first half and ran 60 yards for a score on the opening play of the second half.
“I like running it but I also like the opportunity to use all of this field,” Freeman said.
Defending that approach makes for a long evening on the other sideline, according to Mountain Brook head coach Chris Yeager.
“You got to make allowances for their quarterbacks and receivers making plays,” Yeager said of defending the run and pass against the Warriors. “It’s like having six holes in a bucket and only five fingers. You’re danged if you do, danged if you don’t.
The Warriors passing game was extremely efficient. Tagovailoa completed 15-of-21 passes for 242 yards. Senior receiver Ahmad Harris-Edwards was his primary target, reeling in 11 receptions for 153 yards. Tagovailoa didn’t throw a touchdown pass but he did run five yards for a score. The other Thompson touchdown came on a 9-yard run by JoJo Ford. Kicker Samuel Serrato was good on 4-of-6 extra point attempts.