Auburn High searching for first-ever state title

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By Wil Crews
sportscrews@opelikaobserver.com

Only two teams that won 2019 state football titles are playing for a championship in 2020.

Auburn High has to face one of them – the undefeated Thompson Warriors. Auburn travels to Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa today to face the defending champions in the AHSAA Class 7A Football Championship Game at 7 p.m.

The Tigers are looking to capture the program’s first-ever state championship. On the other hand, Thompson Head Coach Mark Freeman is looking to make it back-to-back titles riding a 17-game win streak overall and a seven-game win streak in the playoffs.

According to maxpreps.com, Thompson (13-0) comes into the game ranked No. 6 nationally, and Auburn (12-1) is the heavy underdog, ranked No. 46. But it’s the championship game; rankings go out the window. The road to a Class 7A state championship in Alabama is one of the hardest to travel. Now that both teams are there, it’s anyone’s game.

The Tigers’ experience beating highly-ranked teams should give them confidence going into Wednesday’s matchup. Auburn had regular season wins over powerhouse programs like Central Phenix City (twice), Opelika, Prattville and Daphne. All season, Auburn has leaned on a dominant defense, with the Tigers allowing just 13.2 points per game on average.

The Auburn offense is led by quarterback Matthew Caldwell, who became the program’s leader in single-season passing touchdowns earlier this season. His 19 touchdown passes have come with 1,768 yards and just 9 interceptions. His favorite target is another record-breaker – senior slot receiver Bryson Clague – who has 49 receptions (a single-season school record) for 748 yards and two touchdowns. Don’t sleep on the other receivers Quay Nelms, Quay Ross or Jazavion Ray; they are defense-burners too. Lastly, senior running backs JT Rogers and Amaury Hutchinson both have one-play-drive potential and have been consistently reliable pieces on an Auburn offense that has averaged 30.9 points per game this season.

Thompson is led by junior quarterback Connor Harrell, who looks to be one of the best young recruits at the position for the 2022 class. For the season, Harrell has thrown for 3,540 yards and 40 touchdowns with just 3 interceptions. More impressively, Harrell is completing passes at a 73.8% clip – that’s 0.3 percentage points better than the NFL’s completion percent leader, Drew Brees. Furthermore, Harrell has shown his ability to make plays with his legs, rushing for 315 yards and 5 touchdowns on the season. Senior running back Jarrett Crockett typically lines up behind Harrell. The speedy 5-foot-10 back has averaged 6.8 yards per carry and rushed for 1037 yards and 16 touchdowns on the season.

On defense, Thompson is led by the No. 1 ranked defensive prospect of the 2022 class, 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior defensive end Jeremiah Alexander. In 13 games, Alexander has registered 106 tackles, 8 sacks and 2 forced fumbles – both of which he recovered. Alexander leads a formidable Warriors defense that has allowed only 14.9 points per game.

So that’s it. The end of Alabama high school football in 2020 is here. For us locally, it’s culminating tonight. By the time you read this we may already know a champion. The moment shouldn’t be too big for the defending champions Thompson. Will it be for Auburn High? Regardless of the outcome, it’s been an honor covering these games and it’s been an unforgettable season to say the least.

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