An overflow crowd showed up at Warrior Stadium to celebrate the first regular season in the marvelous new home for the Thompson High football program.
The fans on hand celebrated a special evening. Thompson head coach Mark Freeman, on the other hand, simply survived a stressful home opener.
“There was a lot going on this week, just crazy things,” Freeman said. “There were people in the locker room before the game, people upstairs before the game. There was a lot going on. As a head coach, you worry. You don’t want to have any distractions for the kids.”
In the end, though, Freeman, his players and all the members of the program were able to leave with a smile on their face after holding off Oak Mountain, 35-21, in a critical Class 7A Region 3 game.
“I’m proud of our kids, proud of our coaches, it was a tough week,” said Freeman, whose team had more than 650 yards in offense, including 538 passing by Taulia Tagovailoa.
It was a particularly tough first half for a Thompson defense that had trouble adjusting to the option attack directed by Oak Mountain freshman quarterback Evan Smith. But the Warriors were able to make some big plays and big stops to minimize the damage done by an Oak Mountain offense that gained nearly 450 yards.
The first big stop came on the opening drive when Smith directed the Eagles inside the Thompson 2-yard line. On third down, running back Luke Percer, who was lined up as the Wildcat quarterback, was stuffed after gaining a yard to the 1-yard line. On fourth down, Aubrey Glidewell and Will Conner led the way as Percer was, once again, stopped short of the goal line.
Neither team scored in the opening quarter but Thompson closed the stanza with a bang. Receiver Kyle Smoak caught a short pass from Tagovailoa on a crossing route and weaved his way to an 84-yard gain. The next play, which was the first play of the second quarter, was a 10-yard touchdown run by Sharick Byrd.
On the first play of the ensuing possession, Smith raced 72 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the Thompson 8-yard line. Two plays later, Smith scored on a 2-yard run and the teams were tied at 7.
Thompson scored on 16-yard pass from Tagovailoa to Michael Pettway. Once again, Oak Mountain answered with a 2-yard scoring run by Smith. Percer had 30 rushing yards on the 80-yard drive and Smith’s 31-yard run came on the play before the touchdown.
Thompson took a 21-14 lead on a 45-yard connection from Tagovailoa to Pettway with 2:56 remaining. The Warriors appeared to be on the way to another first half touchdown but Pettway’s fumble with under a minute remaining in the first half was recovered by Oak Mountain at the Eagles 8-yard line.
It wasn’t surprising that the teams scored on their opening possession of the second half. Thompson scored on a 45-yard pass from Tagovailoa to Byrd. Oak Mountain came back with a 77-yard drive that ended with a 20-yard scoring pass from Smith to Sam Johnson with 7:31 left in the third quarter.
Oak Mountain nearly recovered an onside kick following Johnson’s touchdown. Neither team scored again until just past the midway point of the final quarter. Thompson had one promising drive end when Oak Mountain safety Dylan Hoye intercepted a pass at the Eagles 1-yard line with 9:49 remaining.
The Eagles couldn’t move the ball and Thompson managed to build the lead to two touchdowns on a 45-yard pass from Tagovailoa to A.J. Bonham with 5:45 left. Oak Mountain was headed toward trimming the lead in half after a 62-yard pass from Smith to Trey Allen gave the Eagles a first down at the Thompson 18-yard line. However, the Eagles lost 20 yards over the next four plays. Conner tackled Smith for a five-yard loss on third down and sacked the Oak Mountain quarterback for a 13-yard loss on fourth down.
Thompson was able to run out the clock by handing the ball to Byrd, who carried the ball eight consecutive downs and gained 48 yards.