Warriors Top Bucs Again for 2nd Consecutive Region Championship
The game of the year lived up to the billing as a nationally ranked contest between the two top teams in 7A delivered big plays on offense, defensive touchdowns and a rollercoaster of emotion. However, the result was the same as it’s been the last three times Thompson had met Hoover, with the Warriors taking the win, the Region 3 title and, now, an undefeated regular season for the first time since 2017.
The Buccaneers took the ball on offense to begin the game, but the Thompson defense set the tone from the beginning. The Warriors forced a three-and-out on the opening possession—their fourth game in a row doing so.
The offense rewarded them with a long, balanced five minute drive. Jarrett Crockett’s second game back in action was a catalyst for Mark Freeman’s offense as they mixed the run with the pass to keep the Bucs on their heels. The senior running back would take it in from two yards out to put Thompson up 7-0.
Hoover came in with one of the most prolific passing attacks in the state, but the Warriors put the clamps on Josh Lundy’s best receivers and pressured him throughout the night. Josh Nibblett turned to his ground game and found success on their next drive using four different running backs and different formations on the offensive line to keep Thompson guessing. RB Jaylen Taylor’s four yard TD run with 28 seconds to go in the first quarter tied the game at 7-7.
The Warriors responded with another long drive and again found themselves knocking on the door a couple of minutes into the second quarter. With a first down inside the Hoover five yard line a touchdown seemed inevitable, but the Bucs got great penetration up the middle and forced fourth down. Opting to pass, QB Conner Harrell dropped back and fired right, but was intercepted in the end zone.
Linebacker Marcus Williams raced the other way, but Harrell chased him down after a 60 yard dash. Despite the disappointment it was a huge play for the QB as the defense was able to force a field goal a few plays later to minimize the damage.
Harrell bounced back and found JB Mitchell drifting up the right sideline on the next drive. Mitchell, in one of his best plays of the year, tiptoed along the boundary, sidestepped a would-be tackler and angled back across the field cutting back past the remaining defenders for a sensational 65 yard TD to put the Warriors back in front.
In what was billed to be a battle of top offenses, Thompson and Hoover also happen to have the two best defenses in the region and they began to enforce their will.
Thompson‘s defense made another stop, but they soon returned to the field as Hoover’s Massiah Tolen stepped in and made the team’s second interception of the half putting them in Warrior territory.
What seemed like tragedy as the Bucs drove inside the red zone was only a set up for an unbelievable counter as Gavin Shipman read a route to the sideline perfectly, intercepted the ball in stride and easily outraced the Hoover offense 80 yards the other way to put Thompson up 19-10 going into halftime.
The momentum shift from the big play was apparent in the second half. The offense hit on all cylinders as Conner Harrell went 16-19 in the second half for 120 yards. With Hoover trying to keep plays from over the top, the junior’s precision was on point dishing to JB Mitchell, Ryan Peppins and Sam Reynolds for short gains all over the field. Peppins had seven receptions alone after halftime. The offense was also poised on third down converting eight of eleven attempts and two of three attempts on fourth down.
Jarrett Crockett had 54 yards of total offense in the first half, but broke out in the second with 92 yards on 11 carries and two more touchdowns. He would finish with 147 yards with three touchdowns. His score in the third quarter put Thompson up 26-10 and even after Hoover scored on a fumble recovery two possessions later the game never felt out of control.
The Warriors would respond with Harrell’s second TD pass to a wide open JB Mitchell in the corner. The senior receiver would go over 1,000 yards on the season with a 123 yards on six receptions with two TDs. Ryan Peppins grabbed 11 total receptions for 69 yards while Sam Reynolds snagged another six receptions for 74 yards.
The defense was even more stout after halftime than before holding Hoover to just 107 yards of offense, 239 for the game, 4-12 on third down and two stops on fourth down. The Bucs passed for only 114 yards on 11-29 attempts and less than five yards per rush. Gavin Shipman’s touchdown was the fourth defensive score for the Warriors this season, the most in Mark Freeman’s tenure at Thompson.
Jax Van Zandt led all tacklers with seven, Jeremiah Alexander and Brandon Holifield had 3.5 each while Kobe Hudson also added three.
Thompson heads into the bye week and will host the Grissom Tigers in two weeks for the opening matchup of the 2020 postseason.