A productive spring practice for the Thompson High football team ended with a back-and-forth spring game with visiting Clay-Chalkville on a warm Saturday afternoon at Larry Simmons Stadium. The Warriors fell short, dropping a 35-34 decision to the Cougars, but Thompson head coach Mark Freeman didn’t need a scoreboard to chart whether it was a good day for his team.
“We got out healthy, which was positive,” Freeman said. “We got a lot of kids experience, which was positive. And, we played a really good football team.”
The Warriors were without several key players, including running back Shadrick Byrd and linebacker Will Conner. Even though Freeman would have loved to have all of the missing players, he even termed their absence as a positive because the team a chance to work on its depth, which is key when playing in the toughest region in the state.
Standout quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa did play and the University of Alabama commitment had a tremendous afternoon. He finished 34-of-44 for 321 yards with four touchdown passes and a pair of two-point conversion tosses. His favorite target was Kyle Smoak, who had 15 receptions for 119 yards with a pair of touchdown receptions.
The Warriors opened the game with a crisp 11-play, 75-yard drive that included just one rushing yard. Tagovailoa closed the drive with a 4-yard scoring toss to Smoak. The Warriors were playing without their kicker and went for two points following each touchdown. Tagovailoa failed to connect on a pass after the first touchdown.
Clay-Chalkville scored the next two touchdown, the second coming on a 100-yard reception on an interception thrown by Tagovailoa. Thompson tied the game up on a 6-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hopkins and the ensuing two-point conversion pass to Smoak. The touchdown came one play after Tagovailoa connected with Sam Gaiters for a 35-yard gain.
Cougar quarterback Willie Miller, who made things difficult for the Thompson defenders all game, scored on a 11-yard run as Clay-Chalkville took a 21-14 lead. After both teams traded defensive stops, the Warriors closed the half with a touchdown on the half’s final play. The drive began with 1:42 on the clock and concluded with Tagovailoa buying time with his feet and throwing a strike to a leaping Hopkins for the score with no time left on the clock. Tagovailoa’s run on the two-point conversion attempt failed and the Cougars took a 21-20 lead into halftime.
Clay-Chalkville scored on its opening second half possession, taking a 28-20 lead, allowing Freeman to challenge his offense.
“I told our kids, ‘It’s state championship, we got one drive, we got to go down and score and get two point conversion,’” Freeman said.
That’s exactly what happened. Tagovailoa led the way on the nine-play, 75-yard drive that featured a 22-yard strike to Hopkins. The touchdown came on a 7-yard pass to Smoak and Jarrett Crockett gathered in the two-point conversion pass from Tagovailoa. Smoak had receptions on the final four plays of the drive, totaling 36 yards.
The reserves played the rest of the way for both teams. They traded touchdowns, with Thompson’s coming on a 15-yard pass from Sawyer Pate to Shafton Reese. It was Reese, who moved from defense to receiver earlier this week, who got the drive started with a 25-yard reception.
Afterward, Freeman talked about what his team got out of spring practice as a whole.
“We had two or three goals coming in, one of them was getting the young guys some experience and not just get them in on game day,” said Freeman, whose team lost 13 starters off a team that came up one game short of playing in the AHSAA Class 7A Championship Game. “From a practice standpoint, it went good. We had some good, tough practices, old school style practices.”