The #1 ranked Thompson Warriors faced a tough road test in the 9th ranked Vestavia Hills, but emerged victorious using a big third quarter to put away from the scrappy Rebels, 35-21 Friday, Oct 11.
“I thought our defensive guys did a great job adjusting and that’s what football is,” said Thompson head coach Mark Freeman. “We’re playing good teams and coaches every week and I’m really proud of all our players, because you can come into a place like this and beat yourself.”
Vestavia (5-2,3-2) came into the game allowing less than ten points a game and hadn’t allowed more than 16 to any team in 2019. Thompson took care of that in the first half.
Sawyer Pate was absolutely sensational in the first half hitting 20 of his 21 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns. He began by guiding his team down the field with ease and just over a minute into the game found Jojo Gaiters on the left side of the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
Gaiters, taking over for the injured Jarrett Crockett, made a seamless transition catching five balls for 45 yards and running for 35 more in the first half, but his biggest play would come after halftime.
The Warriors forced a stop and promptly marched back down the field for another score. This time Sam Reynolds split out at the goal line and Pate hit him for the wide open touchdown with 6:11 remaining.
The Rebels needed a response and found it with a time-consuming 6:16 drive that would take up the rest of the first quarter and Sawyer Eli finally snuck it in from the one yard line to get on the board, 14-7.
Thompson (7-0, 5-0) responded instantly as Pate faked play action and found Michael Pettway running wide open down the right sideline. Vestavia bit hard on the run and Pettway took the top off the defense with no resistance for the 21-7 lead. Pettway would go on to have a monster first half with six catches for 146 yards.
The teams exchanged possessions, but the Rebels found their rhythm again grinding the Warriors’ defense all the way down the field. Despite outgaining Vestavia by 130, Buddy Anderson’s group collected 11 first downs in the first half and cut the lead in half on Jack Talley’s four yard TD run to make it 21-14 at the half.
Thompson’s defense has made good halftime adjustments all year and answered the call again in the third quarter. After forcing a three-and-out on the first drive, the Warrior defense were backed into their own territory, but Ja’Vone Williams jumped his man’s route and returned the ball near midfield.
The Rebel defense returned the ball to the offense who again drove into Thompson territory. This time, the Warrior defense would bend, but not break. They stuffed the run game and forced Vestavia into consecutive bad passes including a fourth down try that went by the wayside to get Thompson back the ball.
This would be Jojo Gaiters’ moment and, after making a couple of defenders miss, took a great angle towards the left sideline and ran untouched into the end zone for a 75 yard TD and a 28-14 lead. Gaiters would finish with 189 total yards from scrimmage--a career high--and two touchdowns.
“I can’t say enough about Jojo, he came in and did exactly what he needed to do,” said Freeman. “We didn’t have Jarrett tonight and Jojo made sure we didn’t miss a beat.”
The offense got one more shot before the third quarter and made the most of it as Pate found Tre Roberson in the left corner of the end zone for his final TD to blow the game open. Roberson finished with a season-high 83 yards on three receptions.
Owen May led the defense on the night with 7.5 total tackles including a tackle for loss.
Thompson will have the opportunity to clinch Region 3 next Friday, Oct 18 when they host undefeated Mountain Brook at 7 p.m.