With the injury fully healed, and months of offseason workouts behind him, Thompson proved Friday why coach Phil Ironside pegged him as Hillgrove’s starter a season ago. The senior completed 18 of 25 passes for 281 yards, four touchdowns and an interception as the seventh-ranked Hawks beat Westlake 31-15 in the season openers for both teams.
Hillgrove (1-0) started out slowly as its offense was unable to find its groove until late in the second quarter. The Hawks’ defense gave up a touchdown on Westlake’s second possession.
But once the defense managed to clamp down on the Lions (0-1), the offense eventually found its footing after halftime, scoring 24 unanswered points — including 17 in the third period — to calm any hopes of a Westlake win.
“Going into the first game of the season — things are just blurry in that first half and our production wasn’t that great,” Thompson said. “But, once we calmed down as an offense, our production went up, and it showed in the second half.
“My success is a testament to the line and backs and receivers for doing their jobs. I thought I could have done better, but it was great to be out there and get the first game out of the way.”
Westlake took the opening kickoff and used 13 plays to drive from its 35 to the Hawks’ 3 before Tolando Cleveland intercepted Renard Battle’s pass in the end zone for a touchback.
After Hillgrove went three and out, Battle completed a 33-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Green to cap a two-play drive that gave the Lions a 7-0 advantage with 1:32 left in the first quarter.
Hillgrove’s defense took over from there, shutting down Westlake on its next two possessions. Meanwhile, the offense gained steam and sustained two drives that resulted in a punt and a turnover on downs.
“We sputtered a little in the early going (Friday),” Phil Ironside said. “We had some anxiety early and only had about three possessions in the first half, but we knew we’d be able to score eventually because of those drives we had in the second quarter. It wasn’t like we changed much in the second half.”
It certainly did seem like Hillgrove did change as it scored on five of its first six second-half possessions.
On the first play of the third quarter, Thompson connected with Richardre Bagley on a screen pass that resulted in a 60-yard touchdown that tied the game.
A high snap over the head of punter Donte Hindsman gave Hillgrove solid field position and left Andrew Gaughn with a 37-yard field goal for a 10-7 advantage with 4:33 left in the third.
Aided by a sack from Jimontay Witherow and a 23-yard punt return from Justin Denton, Thompson found Omar Black off another screen pass for a 25-yard score near the end of the third period.
A 26-yard pass to Errol Breaux and a 29-yard completion to Zach Katz led to Bagley’s 3-yard touchdown grab and a 24-7 Hillgrove lead with 5:45 left in the game.
Westlake finally answered with Battle’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Eric Hines and a 2-point conversion to trim the deficit to 24-15. A 46-yard completion from Battle to Jordan Thomas on third down helped extend the drive.
One play after Hillgrove recovered an onside kick by the Lions, Thompson completed his fourth touchdown reception, for 48 yards to Katz, to seal the victory with 3:16 remaining.
Westlake drove to the Hawks’ 20 on its final possession, but Jordan Adams and Justin Haney combined for a 10-yard sack to slow the Lions’ momentum.
“The defense started to step up in that first half and that helped us,” Ironside said. “It carried over into the second, and the offense got going.”
Bagley rushed eight times for 26 and had three catches for 55 yards and two touchdowns. Katz caught three passes for 85 yards and a score, while Black had three receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown.
Battle was 13-of-25 for 222 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Thomas rushed 16 times for 56 yards and had two catches for 44 yards. Hines finished with three receptions for 61 yards and a score.
“We played well in the first half, I thought, but Hillgrove’s defense picked up,” said first-year Westlake coach Stanley Pritchett, a former NFL fullback. “We’re a young team, and we’ll grow from week to week.”