The 2018 Thompson High football team won’t be defined by their final 48 minutes. But it will take some time for the Warriors to get past their final game.
The Warriors struggled to get things going offensively, partly because of bevy of second half turnovers, and had a difficult time slowing down a potent Central-Phenix City offense. What resulted was the Red Devils were able to put an exclamation point on an unbeaten season with a 52-7 victory over the Warriors in the AHSAA Class 7A championship game at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
It was an unfortunate ending for a senior class that helped turn Thompson into one of the best football programs in the state. A day before the school’s first championship game appearance since 1982, Thompson head coach Mark Freeman shared what this senior class means to him.
“It is special, there is a lot of blood sweat and tears put in with this class,” said Freeman, who just completed his fourth season as the program’s head coach. “While we’re going to be sad, emotionally (after their last game) we understand the Lord put us here to be part of the journey. We’re going to be sad, but we’re going to be very happy and we’re going to pray that we put something in them that will make them better people when they leave us.”
This group helped turn the Warriors into one of the elite programs, even if their final game didn’t work out the way they’d hoped and worked for.
Things started going badly in a hurry for the Warriors on Wednesday night on the big stage but things didn’t get out of hand until the flurry of second-half turnovers.
Central-Phenix City scored on its first two drives and used some timely defensive plays to keep Thompson off the board in the early going. Thompson established right away that running back Shadrick Byrd would carry the offensive load for the Warriors. The sturdy senior had nearly 100 yards at halftime and finished with 161 yards on 24 carries.
But, All-American quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa never had the opportunity to get rolling. Tagovailoa, who was banged up during the game, threw just 11 passes, was intercepted once and his throws gained just 44 yards. He was sacked four times in the first half, missed a series after falling on his throwing shoulder in the first half and came out after being banged up again in the third quarter.
Thompson missed an opportunity to slice into a 21-0 deficit on the final drive of the first half and a turnover on the opening series of the second half was a sign of things to come. The Warriors committed four turnovers after halftime, two which were returned for scores, as Central-Phenix City built an insurmountable lead.
The Warriors finally got on the scoreboard late in the third quarter. Junior running back JoJo Gaiters got the drive going with a 52-yard run and the score came on a 23-yard pass from Sawyer Pate to J.B. Mitchell.