At the beginning of every season, reaching the Super 7 is a goal for high school football players in the state of Alabama.
“I told our kids in June, you’ve got to visualize Jordan-Hare,” Thompson coach Mark Freeman said. “Somebody’s going to be there playing and you’ve got to have something to drive you when it’s 100 degrees and you’re out there working.”
Two newcomers to the Super 7 kick off the three-day event on Wednesday when Freeman’s Warriors play Jamey DuBose’s Central High Red Devils at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The event continues on Thursday with a trio of games and wraps up on Friday with three more games, finishing with the Class 6A championship at 7 p.m.
“We’ve been close and we felt like every year we were good enough to get there,” DuBose said. “The guys were really determined and really battled in that semifinal game (with Robert E. Lee) to get here. We had had problems in the semifinal game (in the past). It seemed like we were jinxed at times.”
In recent years, there have been a lot of appearances by Hoover High and a couple by McGill-Toolen but this year’s 7A representatives have never experienced the Super 7 in the 10-year history of alternating between Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium and Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Central last reached the finals in 1993 when Wayne Trawick’s squad beat West End in the 6A championship game at Birmingham’s Legion Field. For Thompson, the school’s only championship precedes six classifications, back to the days when the 3A Warriors played the championship game at their home stadium and Arthur Johnson ran for the game-winning points in a 14-11 win over Oxford early in the fourth quarter.
“The people of Alabaster and Thompson High School endured some tough times there,” Freeman said. “I think it will be something that the young kids coming up will have something to look at. I think it’ll build a foundation that we can build toward.”
Like many of the matchups this week, the 7A game will pit contrasting styles. Central is more known for its ability to run the ball and win with defense. Peter Parrish and Tucker Melton alternate at quarterback, with Parrish known for his ability as a dual-threat quarterback.
“He’s an outstanding guy,” DuBose said. “A lot of people see him as a great athlete playing quarterback but what they don’t see is a great quarterback that can run and make things happen.”
The Red Devil defense, tested mightily by Lee in the semifinals, has pitched six shutouts this season under coordinator Mark Hurt.
“We feel like we’ve got a lot of team speed,” DuBose said. “They’ve kind of got a motto after throwing a couple of shutouts of ‘PTE, Protect the Egg,’ the ‘egg’ being the zero. They take a lot of pride in it. We keep the scheme simple. If you’ve got good talent, I’ve learned along the way to keep it simple and let them play.”
Freeman’s team, stunned by Hoover last year in the semifinals, avenged the loss to the Buccaneers this season with a last-second win at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
“We probably had a better football team last year,” Freeman said. “A lot of things happened going into that (semifinal) game last year. Having a chance to go back and reverse the role this year was something we drove the kids on.”
Thompson is led by the dynamic younger brother of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Taulia Tagovailoa has thrown for more than 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns this season, using Michael Pettway as his primary receiver. Against the Bucs, however, the Warriors showed their ability to run the ball with Shadrick Byrd and Tagovailoa didn’t even attempt a pass in the first quarter.
“We felt like we needed to send a message in that game early,” Freeman said. “We threw it 59 times (in the regular-season meeting). Lia threw for 478 yards, so we threw it up and down the field. We felt like maybe they had worked on us throwing a lot.”
And while Thompson isn’t noted for its defense the way Central is, Freeman says his team couldn’t have made it to Auburn without some key defensive stops throughout the playoffs.
“They’ve been battling all year and they’ve been a play away in a couple of games from really dominating people,” he said. “Since the Mountain Brook game, our defense has really come on and played well.”
The two coaches are familiar with each other, although their paths have never crossed. Freeman is 197-47 with stops at Bessemer Academy (1998-2007), Gulf Shores (09-10), Spanish Fort (11-14) and Thompson (15-18). DuBose is 124-38 with stops at Susan Moore (02-03), Prattville (08-11), Florence (12-13) and Central (14-18). Both have been to the Super 7 with other teams.
“You really have to approach it as the next game,” Freeman said. “You can’t make it bigger than it is. It’s 48 minutes of football. At Thompson, we hang our hat on ‘play the next play, play the next game,’ and I expect our players to do it. I don’t think the moment will get them.”
AHSAA Super 7 Championships
At Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn
(Home team listed second)
WEDNESDAY, DEC. 5
UNIFIED GAME Vestavia Hills vs. Baldwin County, 3:30 p.m.
CLASS 7A Central-Phenix City (13-0) vs. Thompson (12-1), 7 p.m.
THURSDAY, DEC. 6
CLASS 3A Piedmont (12-2) vs. Flomaton (11-3), 11 a.m.
CLASS 1A Linden (13-0) vs. Mars Hill Bible (13-1), 3 p.m.
CLASS 5A Vigor (13-1) vs. Central-Clay County (11-3), 7 p.m.
FRIDAY, DEC. 7
CLASS 4A UMS-Wright (13-0) vs. Deshler (9-5), 11 a.m.
CLASS 2A Fyffe (14-0) vs. Luverne (13-1), 3 p.m.
CLASS 6A Pinson Valley (12-1) vs. Saraland (13-1), 7 p.m.