Alabama commit Taulia Tagovailoa’s Thompson football career didn’t end the way he would have liked Wednesday night in the Class 7A championship game at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The senior quarterback, battling through injuries suffered in a semifinal victory at Hoover, threw for a career-low 44 yards, was sacked four times and intercepted once in a 52-7 loss to No. 1 Central-Phenix City.
He left the game for a series after consecutive sacks in the first half and then left the game for good midway through the third quarter. He was offering no excuses afterward.
“We played a great team,” Tagovailoa said of the Red Devils. “Sometimes you have to battle through injuries in football. I’m pretty sure they had some guys who were hurting as well. You have to battle through. At the end of the day, it’s did you win or did you lose? Tonight, we didn’t come through.”
The loss capped a rough week for the Tagovailoa brothers. Taulia’s older brother Tua was just 10-of-25 for 164 yards and a touchdown in Alabama’s SEC Championship win over Georgia. He was sacked twice and intercepted twice.
Taulia entered Wednesday’s game having passed for nearly 3,700 yards this season. He was 7-of-11 against the speedy Central defense with a long pass of just 10 yards. Neither he nor his brother was able to finish their games. Even in defeat, Taulia continued to impress his coach.
“Taulia is one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached,” Mark Freeman said. “To have obviously a huge career ahead, it would be easy to be selfish. But he chose to be unselfish and battle through. It’s not an excuse. We aren’t taking anything away from Central, but I’m proud of how tough Taulia and our entire team has been.”
Tagovailoa said he suffered a shoulder injury against Hoover. Freeman said he went through therapy every day this week and practiced just once. However, there was no doubt he would start this game.
“As a staff, we made a decision on how much he would play or when he might come out, but he was going to start this football game and he was going to play and be a leader and win the football game for us,” Freeman said. “That’s the mindset we had. When he got tackled that time (in the first half), I think it hurried some things up.”
Tagovailoa’s last pass of the game came with less than 12 minutes left in the third quarter and was intercepted by Clemson commit Ray Thornton. It led to a field goal and a 24-0 lead. Central coach Jamey Dubose said his defense didn’t do anything special to contain Tagovailoa and company.
“We really did what we’ve done all year,” Dubose said. “We played man coverage. We knew we could blitz and felt like our pass rush could get to him. We’ve got a lot of speed on defense. I’m not sure people realize that.”
Tagovailoa is scheduled to play in next week’s Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game, though that seems unlikely with his current injury. He held his right arm throughout the press conference, even shaking hands with his left arm. All the while, he talked about how he had been blessed to play at Thompson.
“I’m proud of how my brothers played this whole season,” he said. “God blessed us with this opportunity to play in a great stadium like this against a good team in Central. Hats off to them. It’s been a great experience all around.”
With the NCAA’s early signing day just two weeks away, Tagovailoa said it’s now time to focus on recruiting. He committed to play with his brother at Alabama this spring and said he’s still set on that.
“But there’s always room for prayer,” he said.
He said he and fellow Thompson teammate and Alabama commit Amari Kight would be ready to go in and continue to work hard in Tuscaloosa.
“I know they will get two fine young men and we will show respect, love and honor,” Tagovailoa said of what the Crimson Tide will get when he and Kight step on campus. “We are still going to be us. Amari is still going to be Amari. I’m still going to be Lia.”
Freeman thinks that is plenty good enough.
“He can be great,” Freeman said of Tagovailoa’s college career. “His mind is so good. He’s such a competitor.”