Thompkins adds gas to W-P’s blazing spread offense

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Waitsburg-Prescott vs. Lind-Ritzville-Sprague

No. 2 Waitsburg-Prescott (11-1) takes on No. 3 Lind-Ritzville-Sprague (11-0) in a Class 2B playoffs semifinal.

When

Saturday at 2 p.m.

Where

Lampson Stadium, Kennewick

Key Matchup

Waitsburg-Prescott’s offensive line vs. L-R-S’s defensive line: L-R-S’s defensive line has wreaked havoc in the Class 2B playoffs thus far. Can W-P’s offensive line keep QB Stirling Eastman upright long enough for him to find the open receivers?

Who to Watch For

W-P: Dalton Estes. The senior running back/receiver will have to have a big day on the ground to keep L-R-S honest.

L-R-S: Connor O’Neill. A junior tailback, W-P coach Jeff Bartlow said O’Niell may be the fastest player on the field Saturday. “O’Neill is faster than anybody on our team, maybe even than James (Thompkins). We’re working on the matchup problem, he’s going to cause some problems for us.”

The Gameplan

W-P: Look for W-P to utilize its explosive spread offense and try to get up early. W-P has multiple weapons at skill positions and Eastman has excelled at finding them.

L-R-S: The Broncos run a spread offense as well but favor the running game. The Broncos ran for 192 tough yards against DeSales in the Class 2B quarterfinals.

What’s it mean?

W-P is looking to make its second consecutive trip to the Class 2B championship, while L-R-S is looking to avenge a 42-7 whipping in the quarterfinals at the hands of W-P in the 2011 playoffs. W-P will also be fighting for the Southeast 2B’s pride; L-R-S defeated both of the SE2B’s other co-champions, Tekoa-Oakesdale-Rosalia and DeSales in the opening round and quarterfinals, respectively.

WALLA WALLA — Springdale found it all too easy to underestimate the slender receiver.

James Thompkins was fast, holding top-10 finishes at state in the 100-, 200- and 400-yard dashes, but he began the prep football season buried on Waitsburg-Prescott’s depth chart. It was only his second year playing football and, although he was probably the fastest player on the team, he didn’t know how to use his speed. And his coaches didn’t know how to use him.

He couldn’t catch the ball well enough to stick at receiver, and W-P had plenty of depth ahead of him at running back.

And his own actions conspired to keep him off the field as well.

Thompkins, a senior at the Jubilee Youth Ranch, missed the first game of the season for breaking a school rule and missed the next three for violating a team rule.

He got back on the field for W-P’s game against DeSales, but by the time Springdale came to town on Oct. 5th in a play-in game for the state playoffs, he’d totaled just four catches for fewer than 100 yards.

Hardly a world-beater, and not a lot on tape for Springdale to take notice.

But he caught four more passes that day — four passes for four touchdowns and 205 yards, including a 71-yarder on the very first play of the game — and the electric Thompkins hasn’t let his foot off the pedal yet.

“At receiver, no one knew about him,” W-P coach Jeff Bartlow said. “He scored a touchdown on the first snap against Springdale, and the rest is history. He’s been a huge factor for us since that moment.”

Heading into Saturday’s 2 p.m. playoff game against Lind-Ritzville-Sprague, Thompkins has now amassed 602 yards on just 17 catches — a huge 35 yards per catch — and scored a team-leading seven touchdowns overall.

In the three postseason games W-P has played in, Thompkins has averaged 165 yards a game.

“He’s been all of a sudden just this huge threat,” Bartlow said. “He’s been a huge threat all along, but we didn’t have him his junior year because of his inexperience and the beginning of his senior year because of his own doing.

“He’s bought into that position,” Bartlow said of switching Thompkins to receiver. “He’s going after the ball and he’s able to adjust to the ball in the air, and once he hit that level he’s a huge threat for us.”

Having established himself as a legitimate downfield option for quarterback Stirling Eastman, Thompkins hasn’t been ignored the way he was against Springdale. But as opponents have adjusted to him, he’s continued to develop as well.

Jubilee Athletic Director and W-P assistant coach Mark Hauck said Thompkins is becoming a complete player.

“He’s done great, to be honest with you,” Hauck said of Thompkins. “He’s learned how to use his speed. Before he just ran past guys to catch the ball, now he’s using his speed and footwork to make guys miss. When DBs (defensive backs) are trying to tackle him one-on-one, it’s almost unfair. He’s really good.”

Although Waitsburg-Prescott had weapons on offense already, Thompkin’s development completes a foursome that has given its opponents fits in the postseason.

Senior Dalton Estes has also shuffled between running back and receiver this season and has excelled at both positions, running for 1,081 yards on just 105 carries and catching 38 balls for 689 yards. Chance Leroue is well positioned to be next year’s big thing, having already racked up 587 receiving yards on 29 catches in his sophomore campaign.

Finally, senior Roy Ebong has proven to be an effective safety net for Eastman, Bartlow said, catching the ball 36 times for 491 yards.

And, of course, to use all these weapons, you need someone to pull the trigger, something Eastman has been more than capable of in racking up 2,586 passing yards and 22 touchdowns to just six interceptions.

But Thompkins isn’t just a pair of speedy cleats. Key in any spread offense like the one Waitsburg-Prescott runs is a receiver’s ability to block, something that Hauck was quick to give praise to the diminutive Thompkins for.

“He really had to work on blocking, “ Hauck said. “He was not good at pass blocking as a running back, but it’s really helped him learn how to block as a receiver. He’s used to blocking linebackers coming after the quarterback, which is a lot harder than blocking a cornerback.”

According to Hauck, one of the biggest plays Thompkins made all year was not a touchdown catch, but a block that sprung Estes for a 69-yard touchdown on a screen pass against rival DeSales — a score that proved decisive in the 16-13 win.

In addition to running track, Thompkins also played basketball for W-P his junior year. He is switching to wrestling this winter, something he admitted may have something to do with his lack of height at 5-foot-7.

A Chicago native, Thompkins had never left the city — not even once — before coming to Jubilee.

Now he has plans to attend Central Washington University after graduating from The Ranch in the spring, although he isn’t sure if college is right for him. He has plans to attend a firefighting school in Arizona should college not work out.

Despite his disciplinary problems at the beginning of the football season, Thompkins has been a leader at Jubilee, Hauck said.

He stumbled, Hauck said, “but he got back up and handled what he had to handle and he’s doing well. A lot of times at Jubilee kids don’t get back up — that’s why they’re at Jubilee — but James has, again, gotten back up.”

“It was big,” Thompkins said of being suspended. “I felt guilty because we lost a game while I was suspended, I felt responsible.”

Over the last two seasons at Waitsburg-Prescott, losing a game has become a rarity. With Thompkins adding a little gasoline to what was already an explosive offense, W-P might not lose another one this year.

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