The overflow crowd that wedged their way into Warrior Stadium on Friday night got their money’s worth. So did ESPN, which broadcast the game nationally on ESPN 2.
The Thompson Warriors? They got a piece of a second consecutive Class 7A Region 3 title after a remarkable 63-49 victory over Hewitt-Trussville.
Pinpointing each of Thompson heroes would probably last about the same amount of time that it took to play the game, which took up nearly three hours and 30 minutes of ESPN2 broadcasting.
Taulia Tagovailoa and Shadrick Byrd would be a good place to start. Byrd rushed for 217 yards on 28 carries while Tagovailoa threw for 270 yards and rushed for 144 yards on 11 carries. However, starting with offensive linemates Seth McMillian, Amari Kight, Mason Crain, Greg Inman and Dylan Walker would also be a good place to begin. And, on a night that was seemingly reserved for offensive fireworks, Tyreke Bivins had a hand – literally – in a pair of game-altering turnovers with D.J. Douglas getting a fumble recovery and interception on those plays.
And that was just a small slice of heroes on a night that was reserved for the definition of a team victory.
"What a great night and what a big win," said Thompson head coach Mark Freeman. "Our kids kept plugging away and they never quit."
It would be hard to script a worse beginning for the Warriors (8-1 overall, 6-1 Region 3). The first 17 minutes of the first half were a series of frustrations – on both sides of the ball – as the visitors built a 28-0 lead behind running back Armoni Goodwin, quarterback Paul Tyson and receiver Ja’Varrius Johnson.
Thompson was able to claw its way back in the game in the final five minutes of the half. The switch began when a Hewitt-Trussville drive stalled because of a pair of penalties and a third down sack by K’Marion Hambright.
The Warriors, who had threatened on every series up to that point, finally broke through when Tagovailoa turned an option read into a 47-yard touchdown run. Two plays later, Thompson had the ball back when Bivins stripped the ball from a receiver and Douglas recovered on the Hewitt-Trussville 27-yard line. On the next play, Tagovailoa faked the option read and found an open J.B. Mitchell for a touchdown.
The momentum was slowed considerably when Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Thompson countered with an eight-play drive, 80-yard drive that culminated with a 14-yard scoring run by Tagovailoa to cut the deficit to 35-21. Byrd had 39 yards on a drive that featured eight running plays.
If you’re keeping score, that’s three Thompson touchdowns on the final 10 offensive snaps of the first half.
It was Byrd – and more Byrd – on the opening drive of the second half. The sturdy senior carried the ball seven times on the nine-play, 80-yard drive. Byrd ended the drive with a 18-yard scoring run to trim the deficit to 35-28 with 7:55 left in the third quarter.
After a defensive stop, which featured a 12-yard sack of Tyson by Will Hoffman on third down, the Warriors kept the ball on the ground. Byrd ran the ball six times for 32 yards on a 10-play, 60-yard drive and Tagovailoa connected with Michael Pettway for 13 yards on 3rd-and-8. The drive ended with Jarrett Crockett covering the final 15 yards on two plays with the score coming from 8 yards away. After Evan McGuire’s extra point, the scored was tied at 35 with 53 seconds left in the second half.
Jalen Bustamante and Bivins had pass breakups on the ensuing possession to force a three and out. The Thompson offense countered with another scoring drive with this one aided by a pair of Hewitt-Trussville penalties. Byrd, who had 163 yards on 21 second half carries, wedged in from two yards out to give Thompson a 42-35 with 8:05 left in the game.
That touchdown began a string of four touchdowns in less than seven minutes. Hewitt-Trussville used a long run by Goodwin to set up a 1-yard touchdown pass. Thompson recovered an onside kick and scored on a 44-yard burst by Byrd. The Huskies scored on a 17-yard run less than two minutes later. Thompson countered with a 59-yard touchdown pass on third down from Tagovailoa to Pettway.
Need to take a breath?
The Thompson defense put an end to the madness a few seconds later when Bivins tipped the ball away from Johnson and Douglas made a fingertip interception. Two plays later, Tagovailoa raced to the 1-yard line and Crockett iced the win with a 1-yard touchdown run.
"I couldn't be more proud of our poise tonight," Freeman said. "I love our guys and their fight. I'm really happy for our players, coaches, school and community to get a big win on national TV."
Thompson tied with Hoover for the region title. The Bucs will get the No. 1 seed because of the win over the Warriors earlier this season. Mountain Brook will be the No. 3 seed and Hewitt-Trussville is the No. 4 seed.