Multiple Teams · Hoover shows Heart of a Champion

Hoover High School

In defeat, Bucs show ‘hearts as big as mountains.’

Jeff Sentell, Birmingham News,December 03, 2011 12:05 a.m.

Prattville defensive back Laronji Vason tries to bring down Hoover running back Dakota Daniel in Friday’s Class 6A championship game. (The Birmingham News/Hal Yeager)

TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — Ask the questions to those who know Hoover football.

Have the Bucs ever had a more resilient team in their remarkable run that has placed them in the Class 6A state championship game 11 times in 12 years?

Has Hoover ever drained more execution and hard-nosed football out of a roster that returned just five starters from the previous season?

And in all those title trips, was there ever an effort in a 35-34 loss that matched what their boys did against Prattville on Friday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium?

Those that bleed black-and-orange for the Bucs would be hard-pressed to come up with more than: No, no and no. Those that don’t would struggle not to echo those same answers.

Alabama High School Athletic Association Communications Director Ron Ingram told the Bucs “they had hearts as big as mountains” afterward.

He might have even undersold it.

[More photos from Prattville 35, Hoover 34]

The Bucs (13-2) recovered after losing starting quarterback Sam Gillikin for the season in an Oct. 7 game against Homewood. Backup Connor Short shined in his stead, but never better than a gritty effort against the Prattville Lions. He was bloodied afterward, but his team found easy answers about the play that decided a classic championship game.

When the Bucs went for the two-point conversion and the win with 47 seconds left trailing by one against Prattville, it was the ultimate vote of confidence.

“Love that call,” Hoover safety Devon Earl said afterward. “We didn’t come here to hang around as long as we could. We came to win. That’s our coaches believing in us. As long as I live, I will love the fact our coaches believed in us there.”

Coach Josh Niblett supplied the football answers afterward: The staff felt like they were gassed on defense. The depth was low. Hoover’s offense had momentum. They liked their play call.

But those were not the ultimate answers.

“The thing is we were trying to win the game,” Niblett said.

He never wavered in the consequences afterward.

“If it doesn’t happen people say you don’t look good and you look like an idiot,” Niblett said. “If it does happen then you look like the hero. I don’t want to be either one of those. I just want to be a guy that tried to help us make the decision to win the football game.”

Getting to that point took some work from the Bucs.

They threw an interception at the Prattville 1 with 1:55 to play. Hoover’s defense forced a stop. Short and the offense took over at the 30. They advanced to the 20 on a pass play, but were sent back to the 30 after a holding call.

Hoover gashed Prattville for 19, 6, 6, and 2 yards for that touchdown. No obstacle was impossible. Hoover thrived in the contest despite seeing their top playmaker on offense knocked out of the game.

Caleb Sims left the contest with a concussion in the first half. He was the only Hoover offensive player with double figures in touchdowns (24) this year. Hoover still clicked off a Super 6-record 23 first downs with a smart strategy to exploit Prattville’s linebackers with smart pass routes.

If there was one chapter that didn’t belong in an otherwise great game, it was that of Sims. He left last season’s title match with Daphne after a broken collar bone.

“That’s so tough to take right there because Caleb is such a great player,” Earl said. “That guy made so many plays for Hoover. He deserved the right to finish out his career in this game and didn’t get the chance. That’s really just not right.”

If there’s a secret ingredient in how Hoover fared so well through the adversity, that’s it. They play for one another. Maybe like no Hoover team we’ve ever seen.

Hoover is now 7-7-1 in state championship games. The Bucs have now lost four of their last five championship games. Those don’t fit in the frame of an incredible effort.

“I hated there was a loser tonight,” Prattville coach Jamey DuBose said. “Both teams and all the kids gave everything they had. If you look on paper, we have them outmatched. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but we outmatched them in every phase of the game but still what a great Hoover effort tonight.”

DuBose had one word for the execution by the Bucs. That word was “Perfect” and he repeated it.

“We’ve played Hoover a lot,” he said. “Talent-wise this Hoover team does not match up to the teams Prattville has seen in the finals. But I said all week this Hoover team plays harder than any team I’ve ever seen on tape. I’m truly impressed by them in every way. That’s their kids, their effort and their coaches. We had to survive Hoover tonight.”