Falling to Miami-Central from Florida to open the year and losing at Georgia power Colquitt County in week two, Hoover never lost faith despite some tough times early and ended up winning the third title for a senior class that will go down as one of the best in state history for any classification.
“This year has been a grind,” Niblett said. “Our schedule has been a grind. The new schedule, starting a week early and finishing the same time with two open weeks, it has been a long season. I’m real proud of our kids and the maturity they showed to be able to handle it because not a lot of 15, 16, 17-year olds and 18-year olds can handle that.
"We tried to put our kids in the best situations that we could as a staff and our kids did a great job of trusting in the plan of what we allowed them and asked them to do, whether it was in the weight room, the classroom, or on the field," Niblett added. "It’s a special group.
“This was a group that had a lot of pressure on them,” he added. “Most people think the greater the prospects you have the more wins you’re supposed to have. That’s not always true sometimes because it’s about the personality of the program and the personality of our team. We had to look ourselves in the mirror after the first two games--that’s what I’m most proud of. It makes it even sweeter to be able to finish it here.”
It was another big night for the Hoover defense as junior linebacker Jeremiah Moon led the way with 10 tackles. Auburn linebacker commitment Darrell Williams had just two and a half stops as Prattville avoided him for much of the night. That didn’t concern the playmaker after the game however as he was just proud of getting his third title.
“We knew we were going to do it from the beginning,” Williams said. “We’ve got a standard at Hoover and I just love playing with these boys. We come to practice every day ready to work. It just paid off. It feels so good. I just want to thank God for everything he did for me and this team. He just carried us along the way. We started off slow, but we finished it how we wanted for my senior year. I can be nothing but thankful and grateful for it.”
Darrell Williams celebrates another title
It didn’t take long for Hoover to show its might as the Bucs took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards in 13 plays to take a 7-0 lead, but it wasn’t without some help from the Lions. A holding call on third down extended the Hoover drive and later a pass interference call on a seconddown pass at the Prattville 20 put the Bucs in prime scoring position. Quarterback John Hutcheson finished off the drive with a third-down strike to big junior tight end Quincy Cox for the early lead.
Unfazed by the early hole, Prattville drove the length of the field in response and when Joseph Burke rumbled 10 yards to the Hoover nine-yard line the Lions had it first and goal. Following a loss on first down and a four-yard gain on second, quarterback Keith Washington rumbled four yards to the Hoover two-yard line. Wanting to set the tone early, Prattville rolled the dice, but Washington was stopped for no gain and turned the ball over to the Bucs.
It didn’t hurt the Lions as they forced a Hoover punt and took over on the Bucs’ 42. They couldn’t do anything with the great field position and when the punt went into the end zone it meant a fresh start for Hoover at the 20. That’s all they needed as eight plays later the Bucs scored again, this time it was Webb breaking outside for the 20-yard score and a 14-0 lead for the two-time state champs.
That’s how things would stay until Hoover once again struck paydirt. Starting on their own 40 the Bucs got 23 quick yards from Webb to flip the field. That’s when Shaw would take over. With the ball on the 29 the big senior ripped off 24 yards to the five and finished things off the next play for the first of his two touchdown runs on the night.
With their backs to the ball Prattville finally got the offense doing with the Washington to Knotts connection getting heated up. Taking over on their own 20, the Lions got strikes of 15 and nine yards from the pair before a six-yard Christian Mays run moved the ball to midfield. Deciding to take a shot on first down, Prattville got single coverage on Knotts and Washington didn’t miss his opportunity. The perfect throw and catch put the Lions on the board and cut the Hoover lead to 21-7 with just 1:24 left in the half.
Grabbing the momentum back with the late touchdown, Prattville was looking for a stop, but it wasn’t to be. Starting on the 20-yard line the Bucs got 20-yard run on first down to quickly move into scoring position. Moving the ball to the Prattville 41-yard line with just 28 seconds left Hoover decided it was time to take a shot. Getting two-deep inside coverage on Leonard Wood outside, the Bucs sent him deep and the throw was on the money for the touchdown. Just like that it was 28-7 Hoover and for all intents and purposes game over.
Washington got the Lions on the board in the third quarter with a one-yard score to cut the lead to two touchdowns, but a 20-yard Shaw score put the game out of reach with just 5:10 left in the period. Prattville managed a late touchdown on a 41-yard Derek Gappa reception in the fourth quarter, but this one was all Hoover on the way to the win.
Washington had a huge game for the Lions throwing the football, completing 11-23 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Knotts was the player of the game for Prattville, catching five passes for 170 yards and a score in the loss.
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