Even though it has been a week since it happened, sports fans in this area are still discussing the crazy finish to the Class 7A football state championship game.
Auburn High School was on the verge of upsetting Thompson with an inspired performance by the players, but a series of questionable coaching decisions set the stage to allow the Warriors to score 10 points in final 18 seconds to win 29-28.
After a defensive stop, Auburn took possession of the football at the Thompson 20-yard line with one minute and 19 seconds left. Inexplicably, while trying to run out the clock AHS changed the field position in a dramatic way by intentionally taking three consecutive large losses to surrender 24 yards of field position that backed the Tigers out of field goal range.
Facing fourth down and 34 yards to go for a first down, the questionable decisions continued. At that point the only way Thompson would have a chance to come back was to block a punt, return it for a touchdown and then recover an on-side kick and score again. That is exactly what happened.
The touchdown on the blocked punt came with 18 seconds left. If AHS had just run a play instead of punting, the odds of Thompson scoring twice were incredibly slim. Making the decision even worse, AHS rushed on the punt play to avoid a delay of game penalty. Incredibly, nobody on the AHS sideline had the presence of mind to call a timeout to regroup to try to prevent a potential disaster.
After the touchdown the Warriors tipped off which direction they were going with the onside kick. Surprisingly, AHS didn’t call a timeout to re-align. The left side of the receiving team formation was out-numbered and Thompson recovered the football on the kickoff.
Auburn still had a good chance to win with Thompson at the AHS 48 yard line, but two pass interference penalties were followed by a walk-off game-winning field goal from 35 yards out, which was a real shame for the Tigers, who gave an inspired performance.
It was such an improbable finish that the game was featured that night on ESPN’s Sportscenter television show.
After what happened at the end of the game vs. Thompson, you have to feel bad for Coach Adam Winegarden and his staff. It was impressive to watch how hard and how well their guys played. The game plan was outstanding and it gave AHS a great opportunity to defeat what was considered one of the more talented high school teams in Alabama high school football history.
Although the 2020 Tigers didn’t quite make history in their quest to win the first state football championship for Auburn High, those involved with the group’s success made a great case that they were as good as team that put on pads and helmets to represent AHS.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter.