Mark Freeman and the Thompson Warriors could teach a master class in how to bounce back. Two weeks after taking their first loss of the season at Hewitt-Trussville, Thompson answered their critics and overwhelmed the Austin Black Bears with a huge first half on the way to a resounding 54-20 win in the first round of the 7A AHSAA playoffs.
Thompson (9-1) had fallen out of the no. 1 ranking which they had held for most of the 2019 season, but quickly reminded the entire state how dangerous they can be. The first play of the game was a harbinger of things to come as the initial snap sailed over quarterback Quincey Crittendon’s head and was recovered by Peter Woods in the red zone to give the Warriors easy field position.
They scored immediately as Sam Reynolds took a pitch from Sawyer Pate and sprinted into the left corner of the end zone for the 7-0 lead just 15 seconds into the game.
Austin could only muster one first down on their next drive and Thompson struck quickly again on the other end. The return of Jarrett Crockett at running back was a welcome sight in Warriors Stadium and after he broke off a couple big runs Pate hit a streaking Ryan Peppins in stride for a 42 yard score. It was Peppins’ first score of the year, but he would make his mark again.
The defense had it’s best half of the year by far and dominated the line of scrimmage to the tune of eight tackles for loss before halftime--a season high.
The special teams unit got involved early as well and blocked the second punt backwards and recovered another turnover in the Black Bears’ red zone. Pate quickly zipped a pass to Tre Roberson on a back shoulder fade route for another easy score and a 21-0 lead.
After forcing their first three-and-out of the evening, the Warriors’ offense began their next drive in Austin territory and made quick work of their next possession. It didn’t take long for Crockett to bust his biggest run of the night all the way to the house from 38 yards out for Thompson’s final score of the opening quarter.
The second quarter continued much like the first as the Warriors drove deep into Austin territory before Crockett ended his night with a four yard rushing TD. He would finish with 57 yards on eight carries and also had a reception for 27 yards.
Thompson would go on to tack on two more scores before halftime as Pate found his favorite target, Michael Pettway, on a 57 yarder (his 14th TD reception of the year) and then answering Austin’s lone score of the half with another TD pass to Peppins with six seconds to go from 26 yards out.
To say the Warriors had a perfect half isn’t hyperbole, Pate finished the half going a perfect 12-12 for 226 yards and four touchdowns to bring his season total to 33 with just four interceptions. Thompson took a comfortable 47-7 lead into the locker room.
Pettway would put an exclamation point on the victory as the second half kickoff sailed between himself and Reynolds, then bounced straight into the air forcing a difficult return. His confidence never wavered, made the first defender miss then split a pair of defenders to break into the open field to gas the rest of the Black Bears. It was Pettway’s second kick return for a TD and Thompson’s third of the year. He would finish with four receptions for 88 yards and a TD.
Thompson’s defense finished with 11 tackles for loss on the strength of career nights from Damion Ugbo and Jeremiah Alexander. Ugbo’s 4.5 TFL were the most by any Warrior this season while Alexander’s 2.5 sacks were a career high. The two have combined for more than 30 TFL in 2019.
Senior RB Jojo Gaiters led Thompson in rushing going for 66 yards on 14 attempts while Brandon Franklin added 46 yards on ten carries. Ryan Peppins finished with 68 yards on his two TD receptions--both career highs.
Thompson will host Florence next Friday, Nov 15 at 7 p.m. in a rematch of last year’s first round playoff matchup. Florence upset Mountain Brook on a last second field goal t