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 Florence at Thompson | Friday - November 5, 2021 | Class 7A First Round Playoff Game 

Senior WR/RB #5 Justin Pegues (Thompson) with a run against Hoover

The Florence Falcons will travel to play the #2 Thompson Warriors in the AHSAA Class 7A Football Championship Playoffs at Warrior Stadium on Friday night. The Falcons come into the game as the Region 4 #3 seed while Thompson is the Region 3 #2 seed in a first round playoff game.

Both teams lost their quarterback in their last game of the season and have unanswered questions at that position before the Friday night game. Florence quarterback Calab Mahan was injured in the second quarter against Gardendale last week and they are hoping to get some good news that he can play this week. Thompson quarterback Conner Harrell was injured against Hoover in the second quarter in the Warriors last game. Both teams have backup plans but would like to have their starter for this playoff game.

"The way offenses are now a days, everything goes through these guys," said Falcons head coach Wade Waldrop. "Peolpe were telling me before the first workout that Caleb can't throw the ball and he is this and that. He has been a pleasure to coach. He is one of the toughest kids I have coached in my career. He is a fierce competitor. He is coming off a separated shoulder in baseball last year in the playoffs. Put it back in and didn't have surgery and rolled with it. Separated against Brentwood earlier in the season. Same thing, just put it back into place. Again at Muscle Shoals, was hurt and still made a winning play at the end of the game. As tough as anyone. He has talent and he is tough as nails." If Mahan can't go, sophomore Leo Glover will play as he did against Gardendale last week.

"Conner at some point we will have to make a decision on," said Warriors head coach Mark Freeman. "We are trying to get information on what his doctors say along with what he feels like doing. This could be a hit and miss this week or a three or four week hit or miss. If he had to play Friday night, could he play? How fast can he get himself ready to play?"

Florence comes into the game with a 5-5 overall record. They had wins over Austin (45-28), Albertville (38-11), Sparkman (42-0), Huntsville (56-14) and Grissom (62-6). The lost to #1 seed James Clemens (42-45) during week six. "We have improved each week of the season," added Waldrop. "I would start the season over with these seniors. They are getting it. This is a daily grind to get better everyday. We can't take days off. You just need a mentality you bring everyday. We just don't have the authentic confidence that we need and that is why we are up and down week to week." 

The Florence offense has been flying high the second half of the season. Since the game with James Clemens, the offense is averaging 50.5 points per game. With Mahan out against Gardendale, the offense only scored 14 points in that game.

Running backs Jaylen Simpson and Jararious Abernathy lead the way for the Falcons ground game. At receiver, the Falcons have Jahlil Hurley, Jakobie Hurley, Will Watkins and Robert Wise. Also, Jahlil Hurley plays every snap on defense at corner. "Jahlil is a rare talent," said Waldrop. "Long athletic player that plays very long. He is fun to work with and gets along with all the players on the team. He doesn't take plays off all year. We talked about it that most players don't do this. He is special. It is a tribute to him and his conditioning." Hurley plays fulltime offense, defense and special teams. His top eight college offers are Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M, Michigan, Florida and Penn State.

The offensive line of Jacob Fretwell, Jataveyon Fagan, Stephen Kelsey, Jeremiah Johnson and Christian Harden are improving each week. They will have a big task going against the Warriors front seven. "That group has grown so much and they didn't have much confidence when we started day one," said Waldrop. "Jeremiah Johnson our center has started for three years. He has played guard, tackle and moved to center. Very intelligent player. JT Fagan is our most improved player on the line."

On defense, B.J. Harris, Kijavien Freeman, Bryheim Russell, Zy Williams and Jairus Wilson will need to get pressure on the Warriors quarterback if they want any success. Linebackers Tamarious Guins, Noah Toney and Elijah Hartnett will get playing time for the Falcons. The secondary of Jahlil Hurley, Skylar Triplett, Keimari Clardy, Brett Thompson and Xavier Garner will have their hands full against the Warriors speedy receivers. Clardy had a punt block and returned it for a touchdown against Gardendale last week.

For Thompson, they are averaging 46.9 points per game on offense. With Harrell a game time decision, sophomore Zach Sims gets the call against Florence. Against Hoover, Sims completed 4-of-7 passing for 57 yards with an interception. Now Sims has two full weeks to prepare for a game getting first team reps. "As a coach, you always want someone ready at quarterback and he has been with us," said Freeman. "In the long run being a 10th grader he gained some valuable experience and what a great night he experienced. He has the knowledge, he just needs the reps. He has a great demeaner. Studies the game, what a wonderful guy he is. He is prepared and he wants to win and do great. He is a great Christian young man that he is great to be around. The team will support him."

At running back, the stable is full of good backs. Brandon Franklin, Ahmari Bolden, AJ Green, Lione Cook and Justin Pegues have carries for the Warriors. Franklin has offers from Navy, Davidson College, Army and Georgetown University. For the season, the senior running back has 514 yards on 73 carries with nine touchdowns. Next up in line for carries is Bolden. Bolden has an offer from Faulkner University and has rushed for 367 yards on 56 carries and three touchdowns. Bolden had a 32-yard touchdown reception against Hoover. Also, Pegues has 291 yards on 35 carries and two touchdowns. The senior had 99 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown against Hoover. Pegues has offers from North Alabama, Faulkner University, Bethel College and Maryville College.

At wide receiver, the Falcons are going to have their hands full on containing this group. Ryan Peppins, Jaylen Ward, Deuce Oliver and Pegues. Peppins is the key to the Warriors offense. "I felt people are missing out on a great player," added Freeman. "I really see a lot of David Palmer (Alabama) in him. He is that kind of player. He is smart, so fast and quick." Peppins has been committed to Western Kentucky, but just received his first Power 5 offer this week in Utah. For the season, Peppins has 967 yards on 53 receptions and 17 touchdowns. Those are incredible numbers since he usually plays three quarters or less in a lot of games this season. Peppins played running back a few times against Hoover and rushed for 35 yards on six carries.

Pegues has 504 yards on 21 receptions and five touchdowns. Pegues holds a 24.0 yard average per catch. Ward has 608 yards on 28 catches and nine touchdowns. Ward has committed to Middle Tennessee State back in the summer time. Oliver has 113 yards on eight receptions on the season. 

The offensive line of Ryan Walker, Parker Mitchell, center Cole Hall, Noah Watts and Stanton Ramil will need to have a good game against a solid Bucs defensive front. "I think we are getting better each week," said Freeman. "Were still trying to get better. They play hard each game. They play physical and we are a little undersized in that area. We can live with them playing hard."

No team has been able to crack the Thompson code on defense. The Warriors defense gives up only 5-0 points per game and have five shutouts so far this season. The front seven is crazy good and put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses. Alabama commit linebacker Jeremiah Alexander and Peter Woods lead the team with 70 tackles each. With him at linebacker you have Jax Van Zandt, a North Texas commitment, that has 59 tackles and 12 TFL. Linebacker Nate Riddle has 46 tackles and 10 TFL. Riddle has an offer from Tuskegee University and Eastern Kentucky. Linebacker Seth Hampton has 51 tackles and 15 TFL. Hampton received an offer from Charlotte back in October. Kendall Franklin will get some time at linebacker in key times of the game.

The defensive front has Peter Woods, AJ Allen and Elijah Williams. Woods has every Power 5 offer you might want. Woods has 70 tackles and 18 TFL. Allen has 11 tackles and 2 FTL, while Williams has 23 tackles and 8 TFL. The defensive front seven has 22 sacks on the season led by Alexander and Woods with seven. Alexander leads the team with 23 tackles for loss.

The secondary has talent led by Alabama commit corner Trequon Fegans who just decommited from Miami. With him is safety Tony Mitchell, another one with all kinds of Power 5 offers. Trevor Hardy is the other corner opposite Fegans. Hardy committed to Memphis earlier in the season. Safety Kaleb Harris is young but has gained a lot of experience in the last 10 games this season. Karston Haywood will get time in the secondary and leads the team with two interceptions along with Mitchell. Anquon Fegans and Amon Lane have been getting playing time. 

Sometimes special teams play a part in these big games. Hardy handles the kicking duties for the Warriors. Hardy averages 39.3 yards per punt this season. Hardy is 55-of-59 in extra points while only holds one 23-yard field goal this season. Pegues has five punt returns for a 28.4 yard average. Peppins has one punt return for 30-yards.

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