Coaches preach that it takes the full 48 minutes to win a high school football game. While that may be true in most cases, on Friday night, the Thompson High used 24 sterling minutes of second half football to emerge with a hard-fought 34-10 victory over Region 3 rival Mountain Brook in the Class 7A playoff quarterfinals at Larry Simmons Stadium on Friday night.
The reward is a trip to the Class 7A semifinals and what promises to be another classic matchup with Hoover.
For the first 24 minutes, however, it looked like Mountain Brook had to recipe to pull off the upset victory. The Spartans, who were playing without standout running backs Harold Joiner and A.J. Gates, figured the best way to play defense against the potent Thompson offense was to keep the Mountain Brook offense on the field.
“We started slow in the first half and just couldn’t get off the field,” said Thompson head coach Mark Freeman, whose team beat Mountain Brook, 40-13, in the regular season. “I can’t say enough about how Mountain Brook executed. They really got after us.”
Mountain Brook took a 10-6 lead into halftime. Evan McGuire contributed all of the Warriors’ points on a pair of 22-yard field goals.
“I told our kids at half that they better come out and capitalize on the first drive and flip the field position,” Freeman said. “Our kids responded and played their tails off. I’m really proud of the way we executed the second half plan.”
It started on the defensive side. The Warriors clamped down on Mountain Brook in the second half, pitching a shutout in the second half. Linebacker Will Conner was outstanding all game, contributing 12 tackles, one sack and three tackles for loss. Fellow linebacker Jalen Rayam added six tackles.
On the other side, quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and his offensive teammates warmed up with more opportunities. Tagovailoa directed a pair of touchdown drives in the first six minutes of the second half. He capped the first one with an 11-yard scoring toss to Alondae Vassar with 9:37 left in the third quarter. Three minutes later, it was Shadrick Byrd scoring on a 5-yard touchdown run to give the Warriors a 20-10 lead.
Thompson added another touchdown before the third quarter ended. It was Tagovailoa and Vassar hooking up another scoring pass, this time from 17 yards out, to give the Warriors a 27-10 lead with 1:06 left in the third quarter.
Thompson closed the scoring with 8:12 remaining on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Tagovailoa to Ahmad Harris-Edwards.
Tagovailoa finished 25-of-40 for 251 yards with three touchdowns. Byrd rushed for 85 yards on 13 carries and Vassar was the leading receiver with seven catches for 76 yards with the two touchdowns. Harris-Edwards had seven catches for 49 yards, Mo Edwards had six catches for 66 yards and Michael Pettway added four catches for 50 yards.
Thompson (12-0) now sets its sights on the rematch at Hoover. The game will be played next Friday at Larry Simmons Stadium. The Warriors knocked off Hoover, 32-25, in a region title game in the second to last game of the regular season.