MONTGOMERY -- There were bumps and hiccups and plenty of things that Thompson High football head coach Mark Freeman and his staff will stress when going over the tape of Friday’s night’s 38-7 season-opening victory over James Clemens in the Champions Challenge at the Cramton Bowl.
Standing on the field, moments before boarding a bus headed back to Alabaster, was not the time to worry about those things.
“First game, 13 new starters, really I was pleased,” Freeman said. “I think (the players) came out the second half and got a little lazy. That’s maybe because we’re a little inexperienced and immature. (But) first game win, man, against a good team, I’m very tickled with our kids and very happy we got the win.”
Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa started his senior season off with a bang, completing 27-of-40 passes for 386 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Eight players caught at least one pass for the Warriors with Michael Pettway catching two of the touchdown passes and Kyle Smoak and J.B. Mitchell each grabbing one.
“I think our receivers played really good,” Freeman said. “I was worried about our receivers, we were replacing three really good receivers.”
Pettway had six catches for 110 yards, Smoak and running back Shad Byrd each had five catches and Mitchell grabbed four passes.
The defense, which is replacing several standout players, bent at times but found ways to wiggle out of a host of difficult spots. James Clemens quarterback Jamil Muhammad, a Vanderbilt commitment, threw for 239 yards but only managed 13 yards on 15 carries on the ground.
Thompson scored touchdowns on each of its first three possessions with each coming on Tagovailoa pass. The first was a 27-yard connection to Pettway on 2nd-and-goal. The pair had appeared to hook up for a touchdown on the prior play but that was called back because of a holding penalty. Freeman said the play was designed to go elsewhere but Tagovailoa made a good read and found an open Pettway.
The next score was a five-yard strike to Smoak with 4:21 left in the first quarter. Two plays later, Muhammad and Christopher Hope connected on a 62-yard pass to give the Jets a first down at Thompson’s 11-yard line. The Thompson defense stiffened and D.J. Douglas knocked down a fourth down pass to end the threat. It took the Warriors just three plays to pad the lead to 21-0 with Tagovailoa’s 53-yard connection with Pettway providing the points.
Thompson built the lead to 28-0 on Byrd’s 3-yard touchdown run with 2:01 left in the half. However, the half ended on a negative note for the Warriors when the Jets scored on a passing play with no time left on the first half clock.
“What halftime about was go answer their score,” Freeman said. “If we don’t answer their score and something happens, then we’ve lost momentum in the game. I think we worked hard, early in the game, to get the momentum, to get our young kids a cushion.”
The Warriors did just that after recovering an onside kick attempt by the Jets to start the second half. It took five plays to score with Mitchell making a nice grab on a 25-yard scoring connection. The only other scoring in the second half came on a 44-yard field goal by Evan McGuire with 3:26 left in the game.
Linebacker Will Conner led Thompson with 10 tackles while Gage Motes had eight tackles, a sack and 3.5 of the team’s seven tackles for loss.