It took three plays for the Thompson High defense to announce their presence in Friday night’s Class 7A Region 3 showdown with unbeaten Mountain Brook.
It’s what they did over the entire 48 minutes, however, that was the key to a 31-7 dismantling of Mountain Brook on the Spartans home field.
Mountain Brook managed just 163 yards on 40 offensive snaps. Take away the Spartans lone scoring drive – a 12-play, 80-yard first quarter march – and Mountain Brook’s offensive numbers were a paltry 83 yards on 28 snaps. The Spartans, who fell to 7-1, managed nine first downs, converted on 3 of 11 third down plays and, an offense built around ball control, held the ball for just 21 minutes.
The Warriors defense was thorough and it was nasty.
“I can’t say enough about the job our defensive coaches did,” said Thompson head coach Mark Freeman. “I know we got some points on the board. But, if they’re not stopping people, we’re not scoring that many points.”
Freeman spent the week worrying about a Mountain Brook offense that includes a healthy dose of shifting formations. He spent a few hours on Friday night watching his defense control the game.
“I give our defensive coaches a lot of credit,” Freeman said of defensive coordinator Shawn Defoor’s group. “What they do on offense is hard to prepare for. They do such a great job of shifting around. I’m so proud of our defensive coaches and Shawn.”
The night began with D.J. Douglas forcing a fumble by Mountain Brook quarterback Strother Gibbs on the third play from scrimmage. Safety Sam Holmes scooped up the loose ball and was tackled at the Spartans 20-yard line. It took two plays – an 18-yard run by quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and a 2-yard scoring run by Shadrick Byrd – to take an early 7-0 lead.
Mountain Brook countered with its lone extended drive of the game and capped off the long march with an 8-yard touchdown run by Sam Higgins.
Not much else went right for the Mountain Brook offense.
Gibbs was sacked a pair of times and harassed on nearly every play. Shifty running back A.J. Gates, who had 48 yards on 11 carries, was engulfed quickly nearly every time he touched the ball. The defensive play of the game came in the third quarter when defensive back Jalen Bustamante slammed into a scrambling Gibbs to force a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Will Conner. However, that was just on of a plethora of physical plays by the defense.
“I feel like we just want to prove something this week,” said defensive lineman Will Hoffman. “We want to get on a roll these last three games of the regular season and be on a roll by playoff time.”
Speaking of playoff time, Freeman unveiled his November plan for the Thompson offense on Friday night.
“At the end of the day, it’s what we talk about, football season in Alabama starts in November,” Freeman said. “We just want to have ourselves prepared to be able to play in November.”
Which means what for the Thompson offense?
“We had to run the ball,” Freeman said. “To play in November, we’ve got to run the ball.”
Thompson didn’t go complete away from the Tagovailoa-led passing attack. The All-American quarterback threw for 149 yards and threw a laser in the back of the end zone on an 8-yard scoring toss to Michael Pettway.
But, it was the running game, led by Byrd and the offensive line, that did most of the heavy lifting. Byrd had 111 yards on 22 carries and scored on runs of 2, 8 and 1 yards. He was a big part of a running game that produced 214 yards on 38 carries.
And it all began with a challenge from the head coach.
“He challenged us,” Byrd said. “It started Sunday, right after workouts. We had a walkthrough (early in the week),and it was all run plays. He said we had to run the ball tough and hard tonight to win the game, just to show people we can do it. It felt great.”
Byrd’s rushed for two touchdowns in the second half to turn a 17-7 halftime lead into a comfortable win.
Thompson is one of four teams in Region 3 with playoff berths already clinched. All four are tied on top of the region standings with playoff order being determined next Friday. Thompson plays host to Hewitt-Trussville, which lost to Mountain Brook last week. Hoover and Mountain Brook also play each other next week.