For now, the perfect season for the Thompson High football team moves into storage. It’s time to move into the next phase of what will hopefully continue to be a special season.
“To be 10-0 is really great,” said Thompson head coach Mark Freeman, who led the Warriors to the program’s first unbeaten regular season since 1982. “Now you go to the playoffs and (the target) is on your back. I don’t worry about it. I got confidence in our kids. It’s not like you’re playing a team and they go, ‘Well, that’s just Thompson.’ They look at us now as a region champion. We’re blessed and we’re very happy about that, but that season is gone. Our season is based on what do we do now?”
The first step in the next phase comes on Friday against Huntsville at Larry Simmons Stadium in the first round of the Class 7A Region 3 playoffs.
The Warriors are playing in their first playoff game since losing to Hoover in the Class 6A second round on Nov. 17, 2006. It will be Thompson’s 16th appearance in the playoffs but the first as a region champion since 1997.
None of that came up in conversation this week during practice.
“We roll into it like it’s the next week,” Freeman said. “Yeah, it’s a playoff game and they know if they don’t play good then you have to put your stuff up. If they play good, somebody has to be really good to beat them. My thing is, let’s go be great, let’s go be as good as we can this week. We haven’t really talked about it being a playoff game.”
What they have talked about – and practiced – are the things needed to get them through this week. Things like avoiding kicking game mistakes, winning the turnover battle and the ability to “withstand the first 7-8 minutes of it being playoff conditions.”
Most of all, though, they talked about keeping the ball in the hands of the Warriors’ potent offense.
“As a head coach, I feel comfortable if I know our defense is getting off the field on third down,” Freeman said. “That means we’re getting an opportunity on offense, a little bit more. If we can get off the field on third down, it helps us have energy on offense.”
Keeping the ball in the hands of the offense has been a good thing this season for the Warriors. Big numbers have been compiled by the offense, even though the first team rarely played all four quarters. Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 2,906 yards with 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Wide receivers Ahmad Harris-Edwards (90 catches, 1,165 yards) and Mo Edwards (48 catches, 851 yards) each scored 10 touchdowns. Shadrick Byrd (913 yards) is the team leader with 19 overall touchdowns and JoJo Ford (551 yard) scored six touchdowns.
“My kids’ stats are so skewed,” Freeman said. “I think there are six quarters that are starters didn’t play. We’re not about getting kids stats, we’re about getting wins.”
Which brings us back to Friday night. Huntsville was 6-4 in the regular season and finished tied with Gadsden City for fourth in Class 7A Region 4. The Panthers advanced to the playoffs with a 38-35 win over Gadsden City in the final region game of the year.
“They’re the team that’s playing good late,” Freeman said. “They had a new coaching staff in there, I think they had some issues early. They’ve been solid the last 4, 5, 6 games.”
Huntsville won three of its final four games with the only loss being a 45-3 setback to unbeaten Hewitt-Trussville. Junior quarterback Jackson Glover threw for 1,524 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Junior running back Stoney Patton had 753 yards rushing with 11 touchdowns and senior Demario Patton had 48 catches for 843 yards with seven touchdowns.
“I can see a lot of our program in Huntsville, what they’re trying to do,” Freeman said. “They’re going to be a good competitor for us to play.”