Hometown Legend Celebrates Championship Win

Hometown Legend Celebrates Championship Win

By Marla Jones, Sports Editor • marla@southerntorch.com

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Former Rainsville native and Plainview quarterback, Erik Kuykendall celebrated his second straight Class 7A State Championship at Thompson High School. 

Kuykendall is joined by Tray Gilbert, a 2012 graduate of Geraldine High School, who currently serves as the statistician for the Thompson High School Warriors. He is the son of Jamie and Jennifer Gilbert. He is married to Jordan Gilbert and they are expecting their first child in March.

Congratulations to Erik Kuykendall and Tray Gilbert! 

Following is the complete recap of the Championship game by Josh Bean, reporter for the AHSAA.

Thompson High School (14-0) won its second straight Class 7A state football championship Wednesday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium with a remarkable last-second 29-28 comeback win over Auburn – a comeback the Warriors fans will be remembering for a long, long time.

Trailing 28-19 with 18 seconds remaining, Thompson’s Korby Williams blocked a punt and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown, cutting Auburn’s lead to 28-26. Place-kicker Trevor Hardy kicked the extra point and then executed an onside kick on the following kickoff that teammate Gavin Shipmanrecovered at the Tigers’ 48-yard line. Two Auburn pass interference penalties put the ball at the Tigers’ 17 with 4 seconds to go.

Thompson coach Mark Freeman sent Hardy, who had missed an extra point in the first quarter, back on the field for a game-winning 35-yard goal try with four seconds remaining. Freeman’s decision paid off.

Hardy made the game-winning field goal on the final play for an improbable 29-28 victory. The amazing win was also Thompson’s 18th straight and gives the Warriors (14-0) a second straight 7A title and a runner-up finish over the last three years.

“All of our kids came through,” Freeman said. “I am just speechless.”

The heroics in the final minute spoiled what appeared to be an historic night for Auburn, which was on its way to winning the first football championship in school history. The Tigers (12-2) built a 14-13 halftime lead and took control by scoring two third-quarter touchdowns.

Auburn quarterback Matthew Caldwell threw two touchdown passes and ran for a 44-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-one play early in the third quarter. He finished 9-of-17 passing for 88 yards and added 85 yards rushing on 11 carries.

Thompson played the second half without starting quarterback Conner Harrell, who suffered was injured in the first half. He finished 9-for-14 passing for 164 yards and two touchdowns and spent the second half on the sideline with his right arm in a sling.

Thompson’s offense, which entered the game averaging 44.2 points per game and had scored at least 31 points in every previous game this season, turned to senior wide receiver Tre Roberson to take over at quarterback. The offense sputtered but the defense produced a second-half interception and a fumble recovery to keep it close, setting the stage for the last-second comeback. Roberson finished 11-of-18 passing for 84 yards but was sacked five times. 

“We got in field goal range, and Trevor made it,” Freeman said.

Thompson started the scoring on a 16-yard pass from Harrell to Ryan Peppins to cap a four-play, 80-yard drive with 5:13 to go in the first quarter, but the extra point was no good.

Auburn, coached by Adam Winegarden, took its first lead, at 7-6, when Matthew Rhodes caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Caldwell with 6:33 to go in the first half. Thompson needed just 1:16 to retake the lead, as Harrell found Roberson wide-open for a 57-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown with 5:17 to go in the half.

The Tigers answered with Caldwell’s 20-yard touchdown pass to Amaury Hutchinson with 3:38 to go before halftime. Josh Owsley’s extra point made it 14-13 at intermission.

Caldwell’s 44-yard run capped the first drive of the second half and made it 21-13 with 9:16 to go in the third quarter. Thompson went backwards on its initial second-half drive and a 14-yard punt gave Auburn the ball at the Warriors’ 15. Auburn’s J.T. Rogers 3-yard run made it 28-13 with 5:47 to go in the third quarter. 

Peppins scored on a 6-yard run in the fourth quarter for Thompson to cut Auburn’s led to 28-19 after the Thompson defense forced a fumble.

It boiled down to the final 18 seconds, however.

Auburn’s Joey McGinty led the Tigers’ smothering defensive effort, especially in the second half. He finished with 6.5 tackles and two sacks. Auburn’sQuay Nelms also intercepted Roberson in the fourth quarter and had 4.5 tackles, and Powell Gordon added two sacks.

For Thompson, Peppins finished with 10 catches for 95 yards and a touchdown and scored on a 6-yard run on his lone carry.

Thompson played in its third straight 7A championship game. Auburn had played in the championship round only once before in school history, falling 20-3 to Hoover in the 6A title game in 2013.

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