Tuscaloosa, Ala. – Special teams and defense were all Hoover needed to beat Auburn 20-3 to finish a second straight 15-0 season Friday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium and win yet another 6A State Championship.
"We came out this year and said, ‘Our definition of greatness is to do things better than they've ever been done before,'" Hoover head coach Josh Niblett said. "Two years back-to-back. Two 15-0 seasons. Two back-to-back championships. I'd like to say this is the best that it's been done before."
The win gave Hoover its 10th state championship and eighth since 2000. Auburn was making its first appearance in the championship game while the Buccaneers were making their 13th in the last 14th years.
"I'd like to congratulate Hoover," Auburn head coach Tim Carter said. "They've got a phenomenal program, and they do the little things right. They've got a well-oiled machine."
For Auburn it could be remembered as a frustrating evening with a few costly mistakes. While Hoover did everything right to win the game, the Tigers had miscues that led to their downfall. It started in the first quarter as a blocked punt resulted in a 7-0 advantage for the Bucs. In the third quarter a bobble on the snap of a punt changed field position and set up Hoover's next score and a 13-3 lead.
"I think they came off the edge and just got through," Carter said of the block in the first. "We've had great punt protection all year. That's the first one we've had blocked this season. I think on the second one he dropped the ball. He just got a little nervous. When you've had one blocked those guys just get a little antsy."
Auburn running back Tyus Flakes had 128 yards rushing while Hoover had just 138 yards total offense. Auburn had 47 yards offense more than Hoover, ran 22 more plays and dominated time of possession.
"We knew we had to run the ball," Carter said. "We had to keep the ball out of their hands and control the clock. We wanted to score some points when we controlled the ball."
Auburn got a stop in the third quarter after the botched punt, but was backed up to its own 20 to start the next possession. Flakes carried around left end and had a gaping hole only to have Scout.com five-star Marlon Humphrey come off the corner and rip the ball out.
"That was a big momentum swing," Carter said. "If he doesn't strip that ball, if he doesn't make that tackle, he might be gone. It opened up. We ran the buck sweep to the left. I thought Tyus made a great run. That's why he (Humphrey) is the player that he is."
A few plays later the Buccaneers were faced with a third and nine at the 39. Going against another five-star athlete in Rashaan Evans for Auburn, Hoover dialed up the perfect play call as running back Bradrick Shaw took a shovel pass 39 yards to the end zone to make it 13-3. He scored again in the fourth quarter on a one-yard run to ice the game.
"We knew that we were going to have to do something to try to neutralize him," Niblett said of Evans. "That's really the play we scored on was a play we put in on Tuesday to try to neutralize him with a shovel pass."
Shaw said he saw Evans coming for him on the first touchdown.
"I had seen the end rushing off the end fast," Shaw explained. "I caught it and there was open space. I knew I had to make one guy miss. That's what I did, and I scored a touchdown."
Defensively for Hoover, Humphrey played perhaps his most physical game of the year and forced the big fumble. However, Darrell Williams was in on play after play, was credited with 11 tackles including two tackles for a loss. Shaw was voted Player of the Game, but Williams certainly made his case leading the Hoover defense.
"I could care less what the stats were," Niblett said. "It could be 13.8, I don't care. It was about winning the state championship for us. I didn't care how we did it. Those 138 yards were big for us. I'm just proud of our kids. It was a total team effort. Stats are stats. The only stat I know is that we're state champions."