In the Class 7A State Championship Game at Protective Stadium, the defending champions, the Thompson Warriors will play the Central-Phenix City Red Devils on Wednesday night at 7 pm in Birmingham, Alabama. Both teams are coming off their rival wins to reach the championship game with Thompson defeating Hoover (35-10) while Central-Phenix City took down Auburn (28-17).
Thompson is going for their third state championship in a row while Central is trying to get back on the winning side defeating Thompson back in 2018 for the state title. Both teams know this is going to be a battle and look forward to their first championship game in Protective Stadium.
"This is a very well coached football team," said Red Devils head coach Patrick Nix. "Extremely talented. A lot of good football players. Same thing everyone else has seen all year. It is not like they are an unknown team, a very good football team."
Central-Phenix City (13-0) comes into the game undefeated and has won games by big margins. The offense has been clicking all season. Quarterback Caleb Nix is having a great season for the Red Devils. "Caleb needs to keep playing his game," added Nix. "We have to play the game. He doesn't need to do anything extra or special. Just keep doing the things he has been doing all season. If it is not good enough, then it is not good enough. You can't be something that your not. We just can't press, need to relax and have fun and do the things you have been doing all season." What a season it has been. Nix has completed 165-of-280 attempts for 2,666 yards with 36 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. Nix is the second leading rusher on the team with 624 yards on 73 carries and 11 touchdowns. That is 3,290 total yards on the season.
At running back, Jaimel Johnson leads the way for the Red Devils. "Jaimel is very explosive running the football," said Nix. "He has great vision, explosive player that can catch the ball out of the backfield, can run it and a good blocker. He has great speed with good size and brings that power running the football." Last week against Auburn, Johnson had 132 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown. On the season, the senior running back has 886 yards on 105 carries and 10 touchdowns. With him in the backfield, Romello Green will get some carries. Green has 479 yards on 63 carries and six touchdowns on the season. Zack Simmons has 286 yards on 30 carries and five touchdowns on the season.
The Red Devils have a lot of options at receiver. One of the best in the state is Karmello English. For the season, the junior receiver has 1,042 yards on 68 receptions and 17 touchdowns. Look for English to stretch the defense on Wednesday night. Great speed with great hands. Last week, English narrowed his offers to West Virginia, Alabama, Penn State, Mississippi State, Georgia, Cincinnati, Auburn and Arkansas.
Marquevious Terry is another big time weapon for the Red Devils. Terry can go deep or go possession with soft hands and outstanding speed. For the season, Terry has 467 yards on 36 receptions and six touchdowns. Wide receiver and switch hitting shortstop Caleb Johnson has 165 yards on 11 receptions and two touchdowns. Johnson is a key piece to the Red Devils baseball team. Johnson has 15 punt returns for a 14.0 average on the season. Add in Marquez Mobley and Cam Coleman that gets playing time for the Red Devils at receiver.
The offensive line will have its hands full against the Warriors front seven. Center Mathew Dixon, right guard Wyatt Taylor, left guard Richazaire Francisque, right tackle Ameir Bellamy and left tackle Keyon Cox lead the way for the Red Devils. Francisque will play in the Dream All-American Bowl at AT&T Stadium on January 17, 2022.
The defense has been solid for Red Devils all season. "We have to find ways to stop the run and pressure the quarterback," said Nix. "They have great skill players. We can't let them run the football and we can't let the quarterback sit in the pocket and give him time to pickout his receivers or we will be in trouble. Our defensive line will play a big part for us in this game. Really both lines will have big roles in this game. Our defensive line will need to play well. They will need to give our back end a chance so they don't have to cover forever."
The defensive line is very, very good. Tomarrion Parker leads the Red Devils defense and has been a force the last two years. "A player who can do it all," said Nix. "The greatest thing about him is we get him for another year. Can rush the passer, stop the run, a leader on and off the field. What a special player for us." His top offers are Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, Penn State and North Carolina. For the season, Parker has 72 tackles, 23 TFL and 9.5 sacks.
Defensive lineman Sterlin Harris has 38 tackles, nine TFL and 5.5 sacks on the season. Another good lineman is Mark Baker who has 49 tackles, 10.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks on the season. Makhi Gilbert has 43 tackles, 10.5 TFL and 4.0 sacks along the defensive front line for the Red Devils.
Linebacker Damion Tharp has 72 tackles, 9.5 TFL on the season. Linebacker James Smyre has 68 tackles, 9.5 TFL, two sacks with two interceptions. Also, Lance Pitts is another good linebacker for the Red Devils.
The secondary is solid. Safeties Siraj Muhammad has 57 tackles and 3.5 TFL and AJ Smith. Corners Quintavious Billingsley has two interceptions and while corner Jonquis Hardaway has six interceptions on the season. JQ committed to the University of Cincinnati back in June and leads all of 7A in interceptions. A big time corner that can lockdown your number one receiver.
Red Devils defense gave up 110 points in the regular season compared to only 50 points for the Thompson defense.
Kicker Ethan Paul has made 59-of-60 extra points and is 5-of-8 on field goals. His longest of the year is 33 yards.
For Thompson, they are the two-time defending 7A Alabama State Champion. Thompson is loaded on both sides of the ball and quarterback Conner Harrell is getting another 10 days from his last game for his hand to get better after taking a blow on it from the Hoover game during week nine.
Harrell, a UNC commitment, is having another big year. "Conner is not able of running some things that we have done in the past but he does some other things really well that we will continue to work on due to his injury against Hoover," said Warriors head coach Mark Freeman. "He is ready to go and feels healthy." Harrell sat out the first round game against Florence and played a half against Oak Mountain, but then played a full game against Hoover and looked really sharp in that game. In his last game, Harrell completed 11-of-12 passing for 142 yards and four touchdowns. Also, he added 39 yards on 7 carries that he really didn't do much during the regular season. For the season, the senior QB has completed 142-of-203 passing for 2,532 yards with 39 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Also, he has 361 yards on 46 carries and four touchdowns.
Last year in this game, Harrell was knocked out of the game in the second quarter and had to be replaced by a wide receiver. This season, the Warriors are in better hands with backup QB Zach Sims if something happened to Harrell. Sims started in two playoff games this season and did well for the Warriors. For the season, Sims has completed 25-of-34 passing for 428 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. A lot of good experience for next season.
Running backs Justin Pegues and Brandon Franklin are the speed and power backs for the Warriors run game. "Justin is vital in our offense with his flexibility," said Freeman. "He can catch really good out of the backfield, see the zone read, sees the lane and hits the open area really quickly and he is sneaky strong. In college, he will be a three way player on running, receiving and special teams." Pegues is very shifty while Franklin can run through tackles. Also, Pegues can catch the ball out of the backfield and is a big weapon on punt returns. Teams were kicking to him early in the season, but shy away from him now on punt returns. "Playing in the championship game this is a dream come true and this has been a dream season," said RB Pegues. "We want to finish this off and get this ring."
For the season, Pegues has 571 yards on 69 carries and four touchdowns along with 597 yards on 25 receptions and seven touchdowns. He holds a 28.4 yard punt return average on the season. Franklin has 645 yards on 98 carries and 12 touchdowns.
Thompson has some very good receivers. Ryan Peppins is one of the top receivers in the state. The Utah commitment has 1,175 yards on 73 receptions and 21 touchdowns on the season. Last game against Hoover, Peppins had six receptions for 121 yards and three touchdowns. You better have a handle on Peppins or his speed and quickness will make you pay just like he did against Hoover.
Jaylen Ward is another big receiver for Thompson. The Middle Tennessee State commitment has 782 yards on 35 receptions and 11 touchdowns on the season. Wide receivers Ahmari Bolden has moved from running back to receiver along with Deuce Oliver and Bo Jones at receiver.
The offensive line of left tackle Stanton Ramil, right tackle Ryan Walker, right guard Parker Mitchell, left guard Noah Watts and center Cole Hall. "I think our line is getting better and gaining confidence," said Freeman. "Playing together for weeks has helped them gain confident. Cole makes every call for us. What a blessing he is for us. Smart player and gets us in the right call. He has been a main stay for us and we owe at lot of our success to Cole."
The Thompson defense has been unbelievable all season. After the loss to Hoover, the Warriors defense wanted a chance to redeem their first meeting and they did that. "It was important for us to come out and get what we left on the field last time we came here," said DL Peter Woods. "We don't think that Hoover took it from us, but we just left it so we picked it up and played our game and won tonight. It is special to go back and play for a state championship."
The Thompson defense is special. Woods and Jeremiah Alexander are once in a lifetime players coach Freeman likes to refer to and he has two of them. The "Bash Brothers" Woods and Alexander have caused havoc all season long. Alexander, the Alabama commitment, has 86 tackles, 27 TFL and 9 sacks while Woods has 84 tackles, 24 TFL and 10 sacks on the season. Woods has offers from Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and many, many more.
With the Bash Brothers in the front seven, you have defensive lineman Elijah Williams, Kaleb Thompson and Kyle Wright. Williams has 27 tackles and 8 TFL on the season. The linebackers are the glue to the defense. Jax Van Zandt has 76 tackles and 13 TFL on the season. Nate Riddle has 57 tackles, 13 TFL and four sacks. Seth Hampton has 65 tackles and 15 TFL. Jake Ivie has 44 tackles and six TFL. Van Zandt has played in every key snap for the Warriors defense. "Nate is one of the best football players that I have ever coached," said Freeman. "Those two inside linebackers Nate and Jax are throw back football players and just play downhill. Make plays that take on blockers. We get their best on every single snap. Jax is so important to our defense because he makes every call on every play. He has done a great job for us. We have five stars in front of them and on our back end of the defense, but these guys are just old fashion football players that makes plays for our defense."
The secondary has two of the best in the state and a few young ones that are the future for Thompson football. Trequon Fegans is your shutdown corner. The Alabama commitment has 38 tackles, four TFL and three interceptions on the season. With Trequon Fegans is safety Tony Mitchell. Mitchell is all over the field. You can see him at deep safety, corner or right beside Woods or Alexander at the line of scrimmage. Mitchell has all kinds of college offers including Alabama, Auburn and others. "Tony is very important to us on defense," said Freeman. "Tony can run around and be a free to be an athlete. Sometimes, we need him to lockdown on a receiver. He doesn't have big stats because no one wants to go against him and that is a compliment to him."
With those to special players are corner Trevor Hardy. The Memphis commitment has one interception on the season. Also, Hardy is averaging 39.3 yards per punt and is 73-of-77 on PAT's along with two of three on field goals. He has a 44-yard field goal this season and along with kicking the game winner in the championship game last season. Other defensive backs are A'mon Lane, Anquon Fegans, Karston Haywood and Kaleb Harris. Haywood has two interceptions on the season.
The key in this game when you play Thompson is who can handle their front seven. Central-Phenix City will need to give Nix time in the pocket or running lanes for the offense to score some points against this salty Thompson defense.