On the horizon, for the Thompson Warriors football team, are four consecutive Class 7A Region 3 games. It’s accurate to say that those four games will determine how special the 2017 regular season will be for the Warriors.
However, don’t expect Mark Freeman and his team to spend any time worrying about what will happen over the entirety of those four weeks.
The focus is much narrower.
“We are worried about nothing but Vestavia,” Freeman said.
That’s because Vestavia Hills (3-2 overall, 2-1 Region 3) is not only next up on the schedule, but the Rebels are also a good team. The Rebels began the season with losses to Homewood and Spain Park before regrouping to knock off Oak Mountain, Huffman and Helena.
Kickoff is scheduled for Friday night at 7 at Vestavia. Thompson is 5-0 overall and 3-0 in Region 3 heading into the game.
For the most part, there is no mystery when facing Buddy Anderson’s Rebels.
“Their program has sustained over the years,” Freeman said. “I think they’re third in the state in defense this year. Spain Park, early, scored some points early but nobody has sustained success on them. They’ve done the Vestavia thing – play the game close until the fourth quarter, then find ways to win. For them, that’s how they play football.
The Rebels actually have the No. 2 ranked defense in Class 7A. They allow 10 points per game with shutouts in two of the past three games. So, it will be strength vs. strength when the Warriors travel to Vestavia.
Vestavia certainly hasn’t faced an offense with the firepower that the Warriors have on that side of the ball. The Warriors average 45 points per game and have scored less than 40 points just once this season. Yet, Freeman thinks his team is capable of even more offensive production.
“The more our running game is a big part of this offense, the better off (the passing game) will be,” Freeman said. “We used our running game a little bit more (last) week. We’re throwing a little bit at them each week. We don’t have a lot in, but what we have in there, the kids understand it. That will carry us for a while.”
Junior running back Shadrick Byrd has developed into one of the state’s best running backs and JoJo Ford is also playing at high level. If they keep up the production, then it becomes harder for a defense to focus on quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and the passing game.
Perhaps the best way for Vestavia Hills to slow down the Warriors is to hold the ball on offense. The ball-control running game is often the staple of the Vestavia offense.
Last week, in a 51-21 win over rival Pelham, the Panthers held the ball for nearly the entire first quarter. Thompson fell behind, 14-7, before finally getting the offense on the field long enough to get untracked.
“We’ve got to get off the field on third down,” Freeman said. “I know 3rd-and-2, 3rd-and-3 is tough, but 3rd-and-7, 3rd-and-8, we’ve got to win that. That’s got to be a point of emphasis. Last week, we had the ball one time in the first quarter. You can’t live on that.”