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Thompson High opens up Class 7A football playoffs with win over Florence

The scoreboard was still turned on and the traffic outside Warrior Stadium still backed up. But it still wasn’t too early for Thompson High head coach Mark Freeman to turn the postseason page following his team’s 45-14 victory over visiting Florence in an AHSAA Class 7A first round game.

“Right now, none,” Freeman said when asked how much time he’ll spend celebrating Friday’s playoff game. “We’ll find out who won and go to work. You’re down now to you got to work, you got to put the time in and you don’t want to leave any stone unturned. We’ll go over it tonight, we’ve got to.”

That’s not to say he wasn’t happy that his team opened up a close game by scoring 28 unanswered points in the second half.

“I’m proud of the kids, now, every win is a great win,” Freeman said.

He also found plenty of things that his team needs to clean up before hosting a Warrior Stadium rematch with Hewitt-Trussville in next Friday’s quarterfinal round.

Little went wrong in the early minutes of Friday’s playoff opener.

The Falcon’s opening drive ended with a Jalen Bustamante interception on a deep ball. The Warriors turned the turnover into points by marching 74 yards on six plays with quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa connecting with Kyle Smoak on a 39-yard scoring play. After a defensive stop, the Warriors drove 65 yards with Tagovailoa finding Shadrick Byrd on a 5-yard touchdown pass to build the Thompson advantage to 14-0.

That was the end of first half smooth sailing for the Warriors (8-2).

Florence (5-6) managed to trim the deficit in half early in the second quarter on a 1-yard run by Jakailar Coleman. The touchdown came one play after Florence began the drive with a 64-yard pass play from quarterback DaMarcus Beckwith to wide receiver Cade Casteel.

Although Florence managed only 113 yards on the other 28 offensive plays of the half, Freeman was frustrated with the big play.

“Yeah, they only got one touchdown out of it but it was one too many,” Freeman said.

Thompson scored on the final play of the first half on a 18-yard field goal by Evan McGuire. But the Warriors were frustrated they couldn’t end the half with a touchdown after reaching the 1-yard line.

Fortunately for Thompson, the Warriors started quickly after halftime. Tagovailoa had 51 rushing yards on a 65-yard drive. He scored on a scramble from 31 yards out. Jarrett Crockett scored on a 2-yard run on the Warriors’ next possession. The score was set up when Tagovailoa threw a pretty strike to junior receiver Andrew Barbour III for a 40-yard gain to the 2-yard line.

The Warriors got a glimpse of the future early in the fourth quarter when freshman Ryan Peppins turned a jet sweep pass from Tagovailoa (15-of-29, 255 yards, three touchdowns) into a 18-yard scoring play. Peppins headed around right end on the play before reversing field and weaving through the Florence defense for an impressive touchdown that set off quite a celebration from the Warriors.

“He’s going to be a good one here,” Freeman said. “He’s got all the talent in the world. We need a couple guys in the lineup like that, who are shifty and can make plays. We just want to get him all the experience we can, right now, in the playoffs. He’s a good little football player. He reminds me of (former Alabama standout) David Palmer. I’m old enough to remember ‘Deuce.’ I wanted to have a little guy like that and I think we got us one.”

Thompson closed the scoring on another 2-yard touchdown run by Crockett. Not long afterward, Freeman stood at midfield and listened to the final few minutes of Hewitt-Trussville’s come-from-behind win over James Clemens to set up the rematch of the Region 3 rivals.

Then, Freeman headed into the team’s locker room to being working on next week.

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