Mark Freeman’s pregame words to Thompson High receivers Alondae Vasser and Michael Pettway were simple and to the point before a crucial Class 7A Region 3 game at Vestavia Hills
“I told them coming in that they could have a good night,” said Freeman, the Thompson head coach.
Turns out, Freeman was right, as Pettway scored on a long touchdown pass and Vasser helped keep the chains moving in a 45-15 victory for the unbeaten Warriors.
Pettway’s touchdown covered 75 yards on Thompson possession of the second half, turning a 14-point halftime lead into a 28-7 advantage. Vasser grabbed five passes for 65 yards.
“Alondae and Mike, they are always good for us,” said Thompson quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who accounted for 338 yards and four touchdowns. “Today, they showed who they are. They do play a big part in our offense. It’s really good, now we can’t say we only throw the ball to Ahmad (Harris-Edwards) or Mo (Edwards).”
That’s not to say that the Warriors top two receivers were held in check. As usual, Tagovailoa found Harris-Edwards and Edwards for big plays. Harris-Edwards had seven catches for 127 yards and a touchdown, with all of his passing game production coming in the first half. Edwards finished with four catches for 39 yards on a night that he was double covered on nearly every play.
As usual, the Warriors found a way to move the ball with relative ease.
Thompson scored on three of its five first-half possessions. Shadrick Boyd scored the only first quarter points on a 1-yard run, which came at the end of an 80-yard march that featured 70 receiving yards by Harris-Edwards. The Warriors extended the lead to 14-0 on a 27-yard pass from Tagovailoa to Harris-Edwards, on a play where the talented receiver outjumped a Rebel defender in the end zone.
Tagovailoa’s lone first half mistake, though, let Vestavia Hills (3-3 overall, 2-2 Region 3) back in the game in the first half. He threw just his second interception of the season, setting the Rebels up at Warriors 19-yard line. The Warriors forced Vestavia Hills into a short field goal attempt but Thompson was called for roughing the kicker. On the following play, Vestavia Hills running back William Schaffeld scored on a 5-yard run, trimming the deficit to 14-7 with 4:18 left before halftime.
Thompson (6-0 overall, 4-0 Region 3) was able to speed down the field, scoring on a 5-yard Tagovailoa run, with just 1:31 left in the half. But, despite holding the 21-7 halftime lead, Freeman was still frustrated.
“I was frustrated, we only had 23 snaps at halftime,” said Freeman, whose team had 228 yards during that time. “We can’t play good teams and not get off the field on third down. We are the ones that kept us out there (with penalties). We got to play clean on defense, we got to get off the field.”
The second half was a bit different. The Warriors forced a punt on the opening series, handing the ball back to the offense on the Warriors 26-yard line. After losing a yard on first down, Tagovailoa hit Petway with a perfect strike deep down the middle of the field. The 5-foot-11, 155-pound sophomore did the rest, outracing three defenders into the end zone to complete the 75-yard play.
That was the start of a dominant half for the Warriors. Tagovailoa scrambled 19 yards for another third quarter touchdown and JoJo Ford closed Thompson’s scoring on a 15-yard touchdown run. It was the possession in between, however, that was one of the top highlights in the second half.
That drive ended when sophomore kicker Evan McGuire, who handles the longer field goal attempts for the Warriors, had plenty of room to spare on a 49-yard field goal.
“We talked about this recently, we needed to try a field goal when there’s not a lot of pressure (on McGuire),” Freeman said. “We needed to get Evan some confidence and it was the perfect time. He makes them all day in practice. We felt good about it.”
Overall, though, Freeman saw plenty of things to work on as the Warriors move ahead.
“I think we’re getting better,” Freeman said. “We’re a long, long way (away). Really, it sounds like coach talk, but we got some areas we got to get better at.”
Thompson has a huge Region 3 game next week on the road against Spain Park.