By Josh Bean | For the AHSAA
Birmingham, AL – Thompson High School senior quarterback Conner Harrell left the Class 7A championship game at Protective Stadium Wednesday night with an apparent leg injury in the first quarter. However, the Warriors didn’t miss a beat.
Back-up quarterback Zach Sims threw two touchdown passes, Harrell returned and threw two touchdown passes to senior Ryan Peppins, and the Thompson defense forced four turnovers in a 38-22 victory over Central-Phenix City to win the 2021 Super 7 Class 7A state title.
The Warriors (13-1) captured a third straight 7A championship while making a fourth straight Super 7 appearance. It’s the second time during the three-peat that Thompson has defeated the Red Devils (13-1) in the championship game. Central has played for the 7A championship in three of the last four seasons, beating Thompson 52-7 in 2018, falling 40-14 to Thompson in 2019 and finishing runner-up again this season.
“It’s been a heck of a year,” Thompson coach Mark Freeman said. “I’m so blessed to coach these guys.”
The 7A title game, as well as the remaining six championship games set for Thursday and Friday, are being televised over the AHSAA TV Network and live-streamed over the NFHS Network. WOTM TV is producing the contests, and the AHSAA Radio Network is broadcasting all finals over its network of radio stations and the internet.
For more information concerning the broadcast feed in your area, go to the media link at www.ahsaa.com and you will find a link showing the network of cable stations in the WOTM TV network carrying the games and a link showing how to access the AHSAA Radio Network. Go to www.nfhsnetwork.com for information concerning the live-streaming.
Thompson took a 14-0 lead when Sims threw a touchdown passes of 24 yards to Duece Oliver and 26 yards to Justin Pegues in the game’s first 10 minutes. Trevor Hardy – the kicker who made last year’s game-winning field goal in a 29-28 title-game victory over Auburn – also kicked a 37-yard first-half field goal.
Harrell threw his 40th touchdown of the season to Peppins just before halftime to stake the Warriors to a 24-0 halftime lead.
Peppins, a senior who is committed to Utah, finished with seven catches for 203 yards and was named the game’s MVP. He added a 73-yard touchdown catch – his 23rd this season – in the fourth quarter.
“Ryan Peppins, in my opinion, is the best receiver in the state,” Freeman said.
Central scored in the third quarter on Caleb Nix’s nine-yard touchdown pass to Karmello English. The 2-point pass from Nix to Caleb Johnson to cut Thompson’s lead to 24-8.
Central mounted another promising drive late in the third quarter, but Thompson’s Hardy made a leaping interception on a deep throw by Nix. Thompson senior Tre’Quon Fegans also intercepted Nix at the 4-yard line midway through the fourth quarter.
Thompson senior linebacker and Alabama commit Jeremiah Alexander credited the coaching staff for the Warriors’ defensive success.
“We did our job tonight,” Alexander said. “It was the coaches who puts in position to do what we did.”
The Red Devils were flagged 16 times for 168 penalty yards and committed four turnovers, mistakes that proved costly against the two-time defending state champs.
“They played really well and we didn’t play really well early,” Central-Phenix City coach Patrick Nix said.
Harrell essentially put the game away early in the fourth quarter with a 3-yard touchdown run after completing passes of 38 yards to Jaylen Ward and 32 yards to Jamar Jones on back-to-back plays. The touchdown run pushed the lead to 31-7 with 9:28 to go.
Harrell and Peppins hooked up again for the 73-yard touchdown pass for a 38-8 lead with 6:28 to go. Harrell, a North Carolina commit playing with a heavily wrapped thumb on his throwing hand, finished 10-of-16 passing for 271 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the season with 41 TD passes and five rushing scores.
“Me and Conner have been dreaming about this day,” said Peppins, whose 203 receiving yards set a new 7A Super 7 record. “God just really had a plan for us.”
Nix finished 14-of-33 passing for 175 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Griffin in the game’s final minute. He also ran for a late 6-yard touchdown.
“We had a great year, a special year,” Caleb Nix said.
Defensively, Fegans led Thompson with seven tackles. Muhmmad Siraj had four stops for Central.
Thursday’s Super 7 action gets underway at 11 a.m. with Piedmont (12-2) facing Cleveland (12-2). Sweet Water (13-0) and Wadley (13-1) meet in the 1A finals at 3 p.m., and Pleasant Grove (12-1) plays Pike Road (13-0) in the 5A championship game at 7. Finals for Classes 2A, 4A and 6A will be Friday.
AHSAA 2021 FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
SUPER 7 STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
PROTECTIVE STADIUM, BIRMINGHAM
Wednesday, Dec. 1
GIRLS’ FLAG FINALS, Dec. 1
Hewitt-Trussville (11-0) 14, Smiths Station (10-3) 13 (2 OT)
CLASS 7A SUPER 7 CHAMPIONSHIP
Thompson (13-1) 38, Central-Phenix City (13-1) 22
Thursday, Dec. 2
CLASS 3A SUPER 7 CHAMPIONSHIP
Montgomery Academy (11-3) vs. Piedmont (12-2), 11 a.m.
CLASS 1A SUPER 7 CHAMPIONSHIP
Wadley (13-1) VS. Sweet Water (13-0), 3 p.m.
CLASS 5A SUPER 7 CHAMPIONSHIP
Pleasant Grove (12-1) vs. Pike Road (13-0), 7 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 3
CLASS 4A SUPER 7 CHAMPIONSHIP
Vigor (13-1) vs. Oneonta (13-1), 11 a.m.
CLASS 2A SUPER 7 CHAMPIONSHIP
Cleveland (12-2) vs. Clarke County (12-2), 3 p.m.
CLASS 6A SUPER 7 CHAMPIONSHIP
Clay-Chalkville (14-0) vs. Hueytown (13-1), 7 p.m.