Birmingham, Ala.--Hoover's dreams of a national championship ended early in the 2006 season. Saturday afternoon at Legion Field their state championship dreams went away just as quickly as Prattville quarterback Larry Smith and tailback Justin Albert stole the show for the Lions as they dominated Hoover from start to finish in a 35-21 victory.
Smith was a one-man show for Prattville on this day. Just a sophomore when the Lions lost to Hoover in the state title game in 2004, the Vanderbilt commitment learned well and put it to use on Saturday. For the game he completed 11 of 14 passes for 96 yards and one touchdown. He also added 78 yards on the ground on 14 carries.
When it wasn't Smith getting the ball it was super sophomore Justin Albert. A speedster at just 5-8, 170, Albert ran for 146 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries. His rushing total was better than Hoover's team total despite 117 from Dennis King. Quarterback Ross Wilson threw for 184 yards for the Bucs but was sacked a Super Six record six times by the Lion defense.
Justin Albert dives over the goal line for a touchdown.
That defense started early as Hoover got the ball first and quickly went three and out. That brought Jordan Means in to punt the ball away for the Bucs but he never got the chance. Putting on a rush, Prattville's Xavier Wright blocked the kick and recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown to put the Lions ahead 7-0 just one minute in the contest.
If the blocked punt and touchdown set the tone, the defining moment of this game came late in the first quarter when Means pinned the Lions deep thanks to the hustle of junior receiver Michael Hall, who sprinted and batted the ball back to the two-yard line. The special teams play put Prattville in a hole but it only served to give Prattville more room to work.
Facing a third and four from their own eight-yard line, Prattville got Hoover's Kerry Murphy to jump across the line of scrimmage and from that point forward the drive took off. A Lewis Haley run for 26 yards got the Lions off their own goal line and gave Smith some room to operate. He responded with a 17 yard strike to Dekendrick Moncrief and later hit Moncrief again for 12 yards. Eventually the ball got in the hands of Albert who took it over for his first touchdown of the day. One play into the second quarter Hoover was already down two touchdowns.
Trailing 14-0 Hoover got to work on offense and for the first time on the day looked as if they had found their rhythm. Starting from their own 28 the Bucs methodically drove down the field behind the running of King and the passing of Wilson. The key play of the drive came on a third and seven from their own 43 when Wilson found Ken Barefield for 24 yards and a huge first down.
After moving to the Prattville 16 thanks in large part to a Wilson pass to King that covered 16 yards, Hoover faced a key fourth and four from the 16. Deciding to kick, the Bucs caught Prattville off guard with a fake by Simon Propst. The holder and son of Rush Propst, Simon ran up the middle for nine yards to the seven. Three plays later Wilson ran in for the touchdown to put Hoover on the board with 5:31 left in the half. The drive covered 72 yards and took 16 plays. Unfortunately for Hoover it didn't take enough time off the clock because Smith and company went back to work.
Starting from their own 22 the Lions had a drive to remember to close out the half. Mostly on the arm and legs of Smith, Prattville covered 78 yards in 13 plays before Smith hit a tightroping Moncrief for a seven-yard touchdown with just nine seconds left in the half. The big play of the drive came on a third and two from the Hoover 28 when Smith called his own number over the left side and gained eight yards. That put Prattville in the red zone and from there Smith did the rest.
Junior Dekendrick Moncrief (6-0, 175) finished the game with six catches for 71 yards and a score. For the season he had 50 catches for 730 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Lions dominated the first half, outgaining Hoover 172 to 116. The bulk of Hoover's yards came on the ground as King had 48 yards on just nine carries. For Prattville Smith was the story with 67 yards passing on eight of 10 attempts while also adding 38 rushing yards on five carries.
Back down by two touchdowns the Bucs responded behind the running of King and a gutty performance by Wilson. Never was that more apparent than his play on this drive. Starting from their own 48 the Bucs drove deep into Prattville territory when Wilson made his move. Running to his left on a draw Wilson got down to the Prattville five-yard line before taking a wicked hit from a Lion defender. The play knocked him out of the game for a play but that was all Hoover needed as King scored from five yards out to make it 21-14 Prattville. The seven-play drive covered 52 yards and took two minutes and five seconds off the clock.
Josh Chapman finished the game with six tackles, three tackles for a loss, and one sack. Hoover Coach Rush Propst said after the game that "Chapman is the best defensive tackle we've had since I have been at Hoover. The Auburn Tigers don't take bad defensive tackles."
Prattville would have several chances to take a firm hold on the game in the third and early fourth but couldn't come up with the plays when they were needed most. The first came with 4:32 left when cornerback Terrell Jackson picked off a Wilson pass on his own 20-yard line. Prattville was unable to move the ball though and punted back to Hoover. Return man Aaron Bowden fumbled the punt however and Prattville had the ball once again in Hoover territory, this time at the 38.
That's when the game's controversial call came. Taking a reverse pitch from Smith, Quaylan Moncrief pulled up and threw a bomb to his brother in the end zone. Making a catch over the defender as he was falling into the end zone, Moncrief was called for a very questionable offensive interference penalty that wiped away the touchdown. Prattville was forced to punt and once again Hoover had staved off probable elimination.
That would come on the next Prattville possession when Smith showed everybody watching who the best player on the field was on this day. Twice during the drive he came up with big runs and he also mixed in a first-down throw to Dekendrick Moncrief that put Prattville in scoring position. Albert finished off the drive in fitting fashion as he took a handoff up the middle and cut left to daylight. He dove across the line to put the Lions up 28-14 with 7:37 left.
Hoover had one last chance to get back in the game and they gave it a valiant effort. A Wilson 16-yard run moved the Bucs into Prattville territory at the 45 and he followed with a 12-yard strike to Barefield. Following a sack that gave Hoover a second and 21 to go, Wilson came through again as he hit King for 32 yards down to the 12. A King run for five gave Hoover a chance but that's when the Prattville defense stiffened. A sack by Jackson lost eight yards. On the next play Wilson lost four on an attempted quarterback draw. The drive then came to a dead stop on fourth down when Wilson was sacked for a 13-yard loss.
That gave Albert and the Lions a chance to put a defining stamp on this game and that's exactly what happened. Facing a third and eight from his own 36 Albert took the handoff from Smith and made a cut into the clear. From there it was smooth sailing for the speedy junior as he raced 64 yards for the score. Leading 35-14 with just 2:36 left Prattville could officially begin celebrating its first state championship since 1984. A late King touchdown did nothing to dampen the spirits on the Prattville side as the final score read 35-21 at Legion Field.