NEW ORLEANS – Nick Saban couldn't do it. The entire ACC couldn't make it. Ohio State and all of its NFL prospects couldn't.
In two seasons, nobody was able to beat Trevor Lawrence, Clemson's child prodigy quarterback, who most experts consider to be the best prospect of his position since Andrew Luck.
You have to go all the way back to high school and the Georgia State Playoffs to find someone who could defeat Lawrence.
"It was a fun game – it was a lot of fun," John Thompson recalled in a phone interview with The Post.
Thompson was then the defensive coordinator for Blessed Trinity in Roswell, Georgia – after a life as a college coach who worked at 18 different colleges during a 38-year coaching career. He was the defensive coordinator in Northwestern State, Louisiana, when LSU coach Ed Orgeron played there, spent two years as head coach in East Carolina, and also served as Orgeron's defensive coordinator for one season at Ole Miss.
"I have never seen such a good quarterback in high school and he is still the best I have ever seen," said Thompson.
The Blessed Trinity was a huge outsider in the second round of the Georgia 4A playoffs. Lawrence and Cartersville High School had already won state championships in a row. He had won 41 games in a row, was the best-placed candidate in the country and had 40 touchdowns and only one interception this season. But on that day, November 17th, 2017, he left the field at the short end of a 21-17 result.
The coaches of Thompson and the Blessed Trinity have thought about the film prior to the game. Each team took the conservative path against Lawrence, fell back into the zone and flooded the field with defenders. It never worked.
"We went in the opposite direction," said Thompson, who has now retired from The Clothes Horse business and is running a business with his wife Charleen in Alpharetta, Ga. "We have had a terrible loss, probably 70 to 80 percent." We put pressure on him, and it wasn't just nominal pressure. We tried to bring one more that they had to block each time. We got him out of sync, they dropped a few balls and we ended up playing a few games. We played a few games with him, we beat and fired him. "
The 64-year-old Thompson awarded his players a respite, a talented group that later won the state championship title. It included a number of Division I players, including running back / linebacker Steele Chambers (Ohio State) and linebacker JD Bertrand (Notre Dame). The Blessed Trinity led half with 14: 3, but Cartersville returned and made a touchdown with 17:14 after a punt return. Less than a minute before the end, Blessed Trinity quarterback Jake Smith completed a 27-yard touchdown pass for Ryan Davis.
"I've trained a lot of games – I'm sure there are over 400 games – and that was one of the highlights of my career," said Thompson.
The blessed Trinity repeated itself as state champion the following year when Lawrence was unbeaten as a freshman at Clemson. It won everything again this year.
Thompson and Orgeron spoke recently, but the retired coach said he had given no insight into Lawrence's termination. However, Orgeron said Thompson shared some thoughts on how to beat the Clemson quarterback. He just didn't want to share it.
"We'll see if it works," said Orgeron.
Thompson is somewhat contradictory. He would love to see Orgeron win a national championship, but he wouldn't mind that Lawrence's series remains unbeaten.
"Maybe he'll never lose again," said Thompson with a laugh. "That would be fine. It would be fun, wouldn't it?"