The hype surrounding Friday night’s Class 7A Region 3 showdown between the Thompson Warriors and Hoover Bucs is considerable.
There is a talk of what could be close to a sellout crowd at the Hoover Met. A Region 3 title will be won. A winning streak in the series between the two programs could be snapped. Playoff positioning could be improved.
That’s just a start of the talking points of a game that will kick off at 7 p.m. and be televised in the Birmingham Metro area.
But, the hype didn’t show up this week while the Warriors prepared for the showdown with practice sessions at Larry Simmons Stadium. Don’t bother to check the schedule and you’d never know that the state’s No. 3 ranked Warriors were getting ready to face No. 2 Hoover.
“Honestly, we’re just going into it like another week,” said Thompson offensive lineman Alex Pearman.
Thompson head coach Mark Freeman said there is a simple reason for that.
“In the big picture of things, it is the next game,” Freeman said. “This is week nine and there’s a lot on the line. But, in relevance, 24 hours after it’s over, we got to move on. We got a game next Thursday.”
That’s not to say Freeman and his team are unaware of the implications surrounding the game. They are very aware of what’s at stake. They know that the Warriors have never beaten Hoover in a varsity football game. They know Hoover’s history. They know this one will draw attention from throughout the state.
It’s a game that will be filled with respect.
“It’s like I tell our kids, we respect Hoover’s program,” Freeman said. “We don’t hate Hoover. We highly respect their program and we strive every day to put our program in a situation where year in, year out, we’re in the playoffs and we’re winning state championships. That’s our goal.”
Which leads us back to the point – there is still plenty of football to be played after Friday night.
So we’ll move on to what to watch for in a game that matches a pair of explosive offenses against two stubborn defenses.
Thompson quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who has thrown for 2,322 yards with 24 touchdowns and three interceptions in eight games, is one of the state’s top quarterback. Hoover counters with steady quarterback Jalen Parker.
Tagovailoa’s top two targets – Ahmad Harris-Edwards and Mo Edwards – are sensational. Hoover checks in with a pair of Auburn commitments – Shedrick Jackson and George Pickens at receivers. The Bucs running game includes the outstanding trio of Larry McCammon, Jacquez Allen and Vonte’ Brackett. Thompson has the tandem of Shadrick Byrd and JoJo Ford to power the running game.
So how do you separate the two?
“The closer you get to November, the more defenses start taking over,” Freeman said. “Our past state championships (at previous coaching stops), we scored some points and we were good on offense. But, we wouldn’t have been there, nor would we have won, if we couldn’t run the football and play great defense.”
So, that could be the ingredients that decide Friday night’s showdown. Freeman is ready to see if his team can do that against the state’s biggest name in high school football.
“It is Hoover and Hoover’s got history,” Freeman said. “You can’t erase history and you can’t shove it under the rug. But, on that Friday night, we’ve got to go play ourselves and not worry about Hoover being Hoover. We’ve just got to go play our game and do what the coaches ask them to do. If we do what we’re supposed to do, we have a chance to be successful.”