The Thompson Warriors closed out a perfect regular season with a 33-27 non-region victory over Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa on Thursday night in Tuscaloosa. The win completed the Warrior’s first 10-0 regular season since 1982.
That was the good news.
What wasn’t so pleasing, for Thompson High head coach Mark Freeman and his coaching staff, was the victory didn’t come complete with the crispness that they are accustomed to seeing from their team. The Warriors had trouble with turnovers and penalties throughout the game and had to hold on down the stretch for the win. The game wasn’t decided until Jalen Bustamante’s juggling interception with 20.9 seconds remaining.
It appeared that the satisfaction over last Friday’s Class 7A Region 3 championship game victory over Hoover was still lingering.
Following the game, after the teams shook hands, Freeman hustled his team on the bus for the ride home to Alabaster. The frustration over the ragged performance, mostly the ragged ending, was evident.
The night started well for the Warriors (10-0 overall). Jalen Rayam grabbed the first of two interceptions for the talented linebacker on the third play of the game. A few seconds later, Thompson quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and wide receiver Ahmad Harris-Edwards connected on a 40-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring. The extra point was missed, so Thompson had a 6-0 lead with less than two minutes elapsed from the clock.
Seven minutes later, Hillcrest took its lone lead of the game when wide receiver Tre Ross took a lateral from quarterback Colby Smelley and threw a 40-yard pass to Tab Beverly for the touchdown. The extra point was good.
Thompson answered with an 80-yard drive that ended with back-to-back 25-yard passes from Tagovailoa. Shadrick Byrd grabbed the first one and Alondae Vassar scored a touchdown on the next play. This time, Samuel Serrato’s extra point was good and Thompson had a 13-7 lead.
The lead grew to 20-7 on a Byrd’s 1-yard touchdown run with 8:52 left and Tagovailoa’s 18-yard pass to Byrd with 10 second left before halftime gave the Warriors a 26-7 advantage.
The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter with Hillcrest scoring first. Thompson’s score came on an 11-yard pass from Tagovailoa to Michael Pettway. The touchdown came one play after Tagovailoa and Pettway hooked up on a 55-yard play. The Warriors carried that 33-13 lead into the final minutes of the game. With just over three minutes remaining, however, things got a little crazy.
The Warriors looked to be running out the clock in the final minutes before Tagovailoa’s short slant pass was intercepted and turned into a touchdown by Hillcrest’s Brandon Bishop. The extra point trimmed Thompson’s lead to 13 points with 3:01 left.
Hillcrest (7-3 overall) recovered the ensuing onside kick on the Warriors’ 37-yard line. Five plays later, Smelley connected with Aundra Gee on a 10-yard touchdown pass, trimming the deficit to 33-27, with 1:20 left in the game. This time, Byrd handled the onside kickoff, but the Warriors managed to run just 25 seconds off the clock before punting.
The Patriots, who had a seven-game win streak snapped, began their final drive on their own 23-yard line. After getting a first down, Smelley threw into double coverage while being harassed by Thompson defensive lineman Will Hoffman. Bustamante’s was the first to touch the ball and, after juggling it a few times, was able to secure the interception to seal the game.
It was the Warriors fourth interception of the night with Rayam grabbing two and safety David Douglas getting the other one. Tagovailoa also had trouble with interceptions. The talented junior was 27-of-40 for 353 yards with four touchdowns but was also intercepted three times.
Mo Edwards (nine catches, 111 yards) and Harris-Edwards (six catches, 73 yards, touchdown) had big nights. Byrd carried the ball 13 times for 63 yards and had five catches for 59 yards. Rayam led the defense with seven tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and the two interceptions.
Thompson now turns its attention to the Class 7A playoffs. The Warriors begin postseason next Friday night against Huntsville at Larry Simmons Stadium.