Warriors Make Improbable Comeback, Win Second Straight State Title
It was the final result everyone expected, yet the path the Thompson Warriors took for their
second straight title was anything but. Mark Freeman’s squad persevered through obstacles,
injury, adversity and a double digit fourth quarter deficit, but in the end Trevor Hardy’s 35 yard
field goal sailed through the uprights as time expired in Bryant-Denny Stadium for a thrilling
29-28 victory. The Auburn Tigers were a worthy opponent with a swarming defense, but it was a
fitting end for the Warriors who closed the book on one of the most impressive seasons in
Alabama high school football history.
The first half was hard-fought on both sides with the two heavyweights trading blow for blow,
especially on defense. Thompson and Auburn came into the game allowing 14 and 12 points a
game, respectively, and turned the beginning period into a grudge match.
Neither offense budged for the game’s first four drives, but after forcing a field goal miss the
Warriors would strike first as Conner Harrell hit JB Mitchell over the top for a big gain to get
Thompson deep in Auburn territory. Harrell would find Ryan Peppins two plays later for a 16
yard touchdown strike in the left corner of the end zone to give them a 6-0 lead.
Another 11 minutes would tick off the clock until the next score as the defenses continued to
make stop after stop into the second quarter. The menacing Auburn front hemmed in
Thompson’s powerful run game and sent blitz after blitz to keep the pressure on Harrell and
disrupt the offense’s rhythm. Auburn would finally draw blood with 6:33 left in the half as
Matthew Caldwell slung a pass to David Weiss over the middle for a 12 yard TD to take a 7-6
Thompson’s offense found its footing next and responded with a quick drive to retake the lead.
On the third play of the drive Tre Roberson lined up at tight end and emerged from the line of
scrimmage uncovered giving Harrell an easy TD toss as Roberson raced the remaining 40
yards untouched for a 13-7 lead.
With 5:17 remaining, Auburn’s pace on offense continued to improve as Caldwell got involved in
the run game on zone read. On first down from his own 30 yard line, the Tiger QB pulled the
ball, found a seam and sprinted up the right sideline for 49 yards before Trevor Hardy tracked
him down just outside the Warriors’ red zone. He would flip an easy TD pass to running back
Amaury Hutchinson two plays later for a 14-13 lead they would take into halftime.
The Warriors nearly scored on the ensuing drive, but ran out of time. Conner Harrell, who had
been injured on the play just before throwing his last TD pass to Roberson, did not return to the
game leaving Roberson to lead the offense at quarterback.
Auburn tried a short onsides kick to catch Thompson napping, but the Warriors recovered with
great field position. Jarrett Crockett broke a nice 20 yard run off right tackle to give his team a
shot and nearly caught a pass from Roberson on the following fourth down that would’ve put
Thompson at the Auburn three yard line, but it drifted just beyond his grasp.
Auburn got the ball after halftime and picked up right where they left off, slowly forcing their way
into Thompson territory. It was then that Caldwell would strike again, keeping the ball this time
around the left end for 44 yards and the score to give the Tigers a 21-13 lead.
With the Warriors stunned and missing their quarterback, Auburn took advantage to add to the
chaos and threw every blitz plus the kitchen sink at Roberson and a bewildered Thompson
front. The Tigers would take possession after a sack on third down pinned the Warriors at their
own two, forcing Trevor Hardy to punt from the back of the end zone. Hardy would get the ball
out of danger, but the quick kick only made its way to the 15 yard line giving Auburn their best
field position of the night. Five plays and two minutes later JT Rogers took it in from five yards
out to give Auburn a 28-13 lead and the Warriors their biggest deficit of the entire season.
Even as the momentum had seemingly swung all the way to Auburn, the Warriors never gave
The defense was forced to stop Auburn again with great field position, but stood strong with the
Tigers threatening inside the 30. Caldwell pulled on a run-pass option, but stared down his
receiver to the right and Tony Mitchell took advantage jumping the route and snagged his third
interception of the season to give Thompson the ball at the 24.
The Warriors didn’t score on the next possession, but were able to flip the field as Tre Roberson
found Ryan Peppins on a deep ball crossing midfield to the Tigers’ 35. The defense, called upon
again to make a play, did just that as Caldwell pulled the ball again on a run, but the Warriors
wouldn’t be fooled again. Jeremiah Alexander hit him in the backfield and jarred the ball loose
and recovered the fumble (his third forced fumble and recovery of the season) to give
Thompson life again--this time with fantastic field position.
Operating from the Tigers’ 21, Roberson found Peppins on a screen pass on the second play of
the drive as Peppins cut back behind Jarrett Crockett’s block and darted for the end zone. The
shifty wide receiver would slip down at the one yard line, but would find the end zone moments
later on a pop pass sweep to the left splitting the defense for six with 8:47 to go in the game.
The defense forced two more stops, but Auburn turned the Warriors over on an interception and
a fourth down stop. Auburn continued to milk the clock all the way down to 28 seconds and went
to punt, but that’s when the incredible comeback began.
The Warriors brought the house and sophomore Korbyn Williams snuck through the protection
and took the ball right off the punter’s foot, blocking it forward and scooped the ball for a 55 yard
return TD with 18 seconds remaining. Needing an onsides kick recovery, Thompson got just
that as Trevor Hardy popped a perfect kick that bounced high past the Tigers and settled easily
into the hands of Gavin Shipman at the 48 yard line.
Thompson ran three pass plays, but the Tigers were again called for interference twice including
a big one in the end zone trying to keep JB Mitchell from a TD catch. The penalties put the
Warriors squarely in field goal range for Trevor Hardy’s game-winning kick sending Warrior fans
into pandemonium and the players sprinting after Hardy to wrestle him down. Hardy did it all for
Thompson and was awarded the championship MVP for his efforts.
Conner Harrell went 9-14 for 163 yards and two TDs before his injury to give him 3,568 yards
and 49 total touchdowns on the year. Tre Roberson was 11-20 for 85 yards along with his 54
yard TD reception. Ryan Peppins was the high man at wide receiver netting 11 receptions for
101 yards and 2 TDs while JB Mitchell and Sam Reynolds each caught four balls for 69 and 27
yards, respectively. Jarrett Crockett also rushed 12 times for 50 yards and a six yard pop pass
for a TD from the wildcat.
Linebackers Triston Woody and Jax Van Zandt led the Warriors with ten and nine tackles,
respectively, with Jeremiah Alexander posting five with his forced fumble and recovery while
K’Marion Hambright was in on four tackles with two for loss.
The win gives Thompson a season for the ages as they beat the number two, three and four
teams in Class 7A and two different number one seeds in Class 6A. The win also gives Mark
Freeman the 8th state championship of his coaching career.