It’s possible, that there will be a more critical drive in the coming weeks. However, it’s impossible to imagine a more dramatic drive than the 99 yards that it took to provide the game-winning points in a 32-25 victory over Hoover in a game that decided the Class 7A Region 3 title in front of a packed crowd at the Hoover Met.
Ninety-nine yards to a region title will be talked about for a long time at Thompson High.
“We like to take every drive one play at a time,” said Thompson quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa. “We knew it was going be a long drive and a challenge for us, knowing that Hoover had a great defense we just had to keep level-headed and keep going.
For the record, the drive took 15 plays to complete and erased just over five minutes off the clock. Four times, the Warriors were faced with third downs and each time they converted. The Warriors used nine pass plays and six run plays on the drive. Tagovailoa was not hit on the drive.
It was a thing of beauty. However, probably not quite as pretty as what appeared to be the one and only play of the drive. Tagovailoa and Mo Edwards connected on what appeared to be a 99-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the drive. The celebration commenced in the end zone, but about 95 yards away a yellow flag was on the ground. The touchdown was wiped out by an ineligible receiver downfield call.
“We hit it and then it breaks your heart,” said Thompson head coach Mark Freeman.
As they do in every game, though, the Warriors latched on to the ‘next play’ mentality. And, with that, they began the methodical march down the field.
Two plays netted three yards before Tagovailoa connected with Edwards on a 13-yard gain. Four plays later, Shadrick Byrd fought for three yards on 3rd-and-1. When a 3rd-and-4 turned into a 3rd-and-9 because of a false start, Tagovailoa kept the drive moving with an 18-yard connection with Edwards. Moments later, a 3rd-and-4 was converted when Michael Pettway found an open spot and Tagovailoa hit him for a 19-yard gain. On the next play, Edwards ran a slant pattern and Tagovailoa whistled the ball to him for a 12-yard touchdown. Pettway grabbed the two-point conversion to give the Warriors a 32-25 advantage.
“Man, that’s the kind of kids they are,” Freeman said.
It still took some work for the Warriors (9-0 overall, 7-0 Region 3) to complete their first victory in 16 meetings with Hoover. This time, it was the defense stepping up and forcing a three-and-out. The Warriors tackled Hoover for a yard loss on first down and K.J. Robertson snuffed out a sweep for a 4-yard loss on second down. Auburn commitment Shedrick Jackson caught a short pass on third down and tried to get the first down with his feet. Linebacker Grant Bivins wrapped him up after a 2-yard gain and the Bucs (7-2 overall, 6-1 Region 3) were forced to punt.
Thompson, which took over with 2:36, left ran all but 18 seconds off the clock before Tagovailoa punted on fourth down. The clock ran out as a host of Thompson defenders dragged Hoover returner to the ground, setting off quite a celebration on the Thompson side of the field.
Turn the clock back a couple hours and there was a moment when it looked like a celebration wasn’t in Thompson’s future. Hoover had taken a 13-3 lead early in the second quarter and appeared to be driving for another score. However, Thompson safety David Douglas foiled those plans by stripping the ball from a Hoover running back and recovering the ball at the Thompson21-yard line.
The Warriors didn’t score on the ensuing drive but that play did settle things down. The Warriors did score with 1:57 left in the half on 1-yard run by Byrd. The Warriors got the ball back 26 seconds later when a Hoover ball carrier fumbled and Thompson linebacker K.J. Robertson returned the loose ball to the 1-yard line. Byrd score again to give Thompson a 17-13 halftime lead.
Thompson then took the opening kickoff of the second half and swiftly moved 80 yards with Byrd racing the final 30 yards for a touchdown. The Warriors had the momentum at that point, not to mention a 24-13, but neither lasted long. Hoover scored 12 consecutive points, the final six coming on a 66-yard interception return by Chase Brown with 4:34 left in the third quarter.
All that did, though, was set up the late game heroics and a wonderful drive by the Thompson offense.