The #2 Thompson Warriors will take on #1 Hoover in a Class 7A clash at the Hoover Met Thursday night. Both teams have wins against each other in 2017, but the Hoover Bucs won the big one in the playoffs while Thompson won in the regular season at the Met to finish as region champions.
Thompson (2-0) has wins over James Clemens (38-7) and Foley (47-0) to start the season. "We have been fortunate to win our two games even when we have made mistakes," said Warriors head coach Mark Freeman. "If it shows up this week it is going to cost us a game. We are inexperienced in a lot of spots. We have to keep coaching and keep learning. Hopefully over the course of 10 games, I think we can be good down the road."
Thompson brings in one of the best quarterbacks in the state. Taulia Tagovailoa had a great 2017 season and is building the same kind of season for the Warriors. In two games, the Alabama commit has completed 49-of-72 passing for 639 yards with nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. "Taulia is in a lot better shape this year along with being so much stronger," added Freeman. "He is always a fierce competitor and a great leader for us. Down the road, we will be able to do some more things with him than we did last year because he is more stronger. He is getting to understand some situations to do some of this. Unselfish team player and has a really, really good grasp of what we want to do."
At running back Shadrick Byrd will carry the load for the Warriors. Byrd hasn't seen much action due to big wins in the first two games, but look for him to get 15-20 carries in this game. Byrd had around 140 total yards against Foley last week. The senior running back can run the ball and has great hands and runs good routes coming out of the backfield. Byrd had a big game in the regular season matchup last year.
At wide receiver is where a lot of the inexperience comes in for the Warriors. Mike Pettway has been one of the key targets for the Warriors. He owns two 100-yard receiving yards games in the first two this season. Kyle Smoak is another possession receiver that runs a lot of underneath patterns that move the sticks. Also, he is a dangerous punt returner for the Warriors. Antonio Bonham, James Mitchell, Chris Hopkins and Homewood transfer Tre Roberson will all see playing time at wide receiver for the Warriors. Roberson is on the learning fast track since he came early in August to the Thompson football team. Roberson was grooming to play quarterback at Homewood before the transfer. Time will tell if he stays at receiver or moves back to quarterback his junior season.
One area of the team with experience is the offensive line. Left tackle Amari Kight (Alabama commit) has been dominating on that side of the ball and look for Thompson to keep running the ball his way. Left guard Gregory Inman, center Seth MacMillian, right tackle Jayme Motley-Simmons along with Mason Crain round out the solid offensive line for the Warriors.
On defense, a lot of inexperience shows up on that side of the ball, but defensive end Eric Mizell and linebacker Will Conner. "They are huge returning starters for our defense," said Freeman. "We are young on defense. We lost a lot on that side of the ball. Were trying to get better as we go on defense. We have to get some experience and depth to be a good football team."
Linebackers Owen May and Gate Motes will stand beside Connor for the Warriors. Sam Reynolds, DJ Douglas, Jalen Bustamante and Elijah Clayton will have their hands full trying to defend the Bucs receivers.
Hoover (1-1) comes into the game with a Saturday loss to St. Johns from Washington, DC. St. Johns is one of the top 10 teams in the nation in high school football and showed it Saturday morning with a 42-14 win over the Bucs. Hoover had about the same total yardage as St. Johns but fell short on the scoreboard only scoring 14 points after their 52 point explosion against Pinson Valley but gave up over 600 yards on offense. "Monday was probably one of our best practices of the year," said Bucs head coach Josh Niblett. "Were not going back to the drawing board. We just need to evaluate where we are. I think we got our edge back so I believe with our other practices this week we will be ready to roll on Friday night. We had opportunities against St. Johns against a very good football team and we just didn't take advantage of them."
On offense, Robby Ashford settles in on his third start of the season. Ashford has completed 31-of-54 passing for 514 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions on the season. Ashford had a tough time against St. Johns with two interceptions compared to his four touchdown passes against Pinson Valley during game one of the season.
At running back Larry McCammon continues to be one of the Bucs best weapons on offense because he can do so many things. His 91-yard kickoff return against Pinson Valley shows his versatility. He can run it around the ends or through the tackles but can catch the ball out of the backfield. Look for him to get a few touches that way on offense. McCammon holds offers from Iowa, Ole Miss, Troy, Arkansas State and Chattanooga, but don't be surprised if more SEC and Big 10 schools come his way by the end of the season. The Bucs have a stable of running backs with Dylan Pualey, Kaulin Jackson with McCommon.
At receiver is George Pickens, probably the best receiver in the state. The Auburn commit has turned in two solid games so far this season and it will be interesting to see if they double Pickens on the outside, play straight up or go some zone. If they choose to double, here is the problem for opposing defenses. Zach Elam has left unguarded pretty much all of the first half when you try to double up on Pickens as Pinson Valley tried. Also in that receiving mix is Xavier Long, O'mari Brown, Jaeden Sankey, Jake Tucker and tight end Kole Allen could play an important roll in the game. Jesse Kelly is solid at the blocking tight end spot.
The offensive line play of David Bodden, Ryan Houston and Garrett Lepkowski lead the way for the Bucs line. Houston is the only returning starter from one-year ago. Houston is developing his leadership roles and has a lot of experience. Bodden at 6-foot-2, 268-pounds will be a first year starter for the Bucs and is an unbelievable competitor. Lepkowski was a part time starter last season. The 6-foot-3 senior at 281-pounds is one of the smartest players on the team and had a great off season in the weight room. Ellis Adams and Harrison Ozgun are other key lineman for the Bucs.
On defense, the Bucs have some experience but had a tough going of it against St. John's. Linebackers Greg Russell and Nick Curtis are very talented at the linebacker position. Jeppa Kilgore, Kam Robinson, Marcus Williams and Josh Smith round out the linebacking corps for the Bucs. The Bucs defensive line is not going to be as big as in the past but they have great speed. Bryce Carnes will be at nose guard, Joseph Jackson at right end and Samuel Suswam at left end.
Codey Martin who had two interceptions against St. Johns along with Jabari Moore, Myles Spurling, Kory Chapman and Levi McCree are going to have their hands full on a lot of Warrior passes Friday night.
"We have to play extremely well and have to tackle extremely well," said Niblett. "This is a very good quarterback that gets the ball out fast. We have to win our one on one matchups and take our shots on getting to the quarterback, but I think Taulia is a better quarterback this year. They are going to throw the ball a lot. We have to get him off his mark and get him to run around a little bit. He gets so much on his drops, he is hard to get sometimes."
Turnovers played an important role last year. Hoover turned the ball over in the first meeting while Thompson had the turnovers in the second game last season. Something tells me that turnovers will play another important roll in this game as in most games. This will be the third game in a row the Bucs defense has seen outstanding quarterback play that might be an advantage for Hoover while this will be the best offense of the season that Thompson has seen so far this season.