FNL: Prattville defeats Hoover

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. --When you say the phrase "Prattville vs. Hoover," the co-phrase "State Title," is the first thing that comes to mind. Such was the case once again Friday night under the bright lights of Bryant-Denny Stadium, site of the 2011 Super Six AHSAA football championships. And the trophy goes to: Prattville, 35-34.

To the categories:

Game story

Unlike his mentor in 1994 vs. Florida in the SEC title game, Josh Niblett went for two. His team had just scored to pull within a point with 47 seconds left on a quarterback keeper by Connor Short, and, after a time out, Niblett sent out his offense.

"We're trying to win the game," Niblett said of a pass play that went awry when the Lions sent the house. "We felt like we had momentum. We were getting a little gassed. It just didn't work out."

Said Lions coach Jamey DuBose of his second state crown, "It's very special. I'm very proud of our kids for getting the job done."

Prattville (13-2) took the opening kick-off and went 92 yards in 10 plays for a 7-0 lead. Backup quarterback Jalen Whitlow went the final nine yards on a quarterback draw to the cap the 3:58 long march.

Hoover (13-2) answered with a 77-yard drive of its own, capped by tight end Josh Jackson's nine-yard catch to tie the score with three minutes left in the first quarter.

The Bucs took their first lead with 6:47 left in the half with a one-yard draw by quarterback Connor Short. That 68-yard march followed a fourth down stop by the Hoover ‘D.'

Lions quarterback Justin Thomas responded with a one-man drive on play: a 72-yard run for six where he literally blew 11 other guys away with his speed. The Bama commitment's dash was a 6A record long run. The score was knotted at 14 with 6:28 left until intermission.

"It was a read, and I got open field," said Thomas. "I tried to make a move, saw green grass and started to run."

Hoover hit the dressing room at the half up 21-14 after Short plunged in from the one with 2:16 left.

Picking up where it left off, Hoover marched 78 yards to open the third quarter and went up 28-14 with 9:42 left in the period. Sophomore Kyler Jackson went 18 yards to put the Bucs up by two scores.

A roughing the punter call on Hoover kept the Lions' ensuing drive alive, and Thomas found Brandon L. Smith for a 47-yard catch-and-run to cut the margin to 28-21.

After a 12-yard shanked punt set Prattville up 31 yards from pay dirt, the Lions took six plays, and Thomas' four-yard plunge up the middle made it 28-all with 3:18 left in the third quarter.

A fake punt led to Stanley Mays' go-ahead rush from the six with 8:31 left. Could Hoover answer? Would they? Almost.

Top prospect

We'll give it to Bama commitment/game MVP Justin Thomas, who is a fine high school quarterback who will morph into a Marquis Maze-type receiver when he returns to Tuscaloosa. The 5-11, 165-pound speedster rushed for two scores and 151 yards, and threw for 153 yards and one touchdown.

"Offensively, Justin Thomas had a great night," DuBose said.

Seniors who shined Hoover receiver Caleb Sims is listed at 5-10, 180, and he has a West Alabama scholly offer and an Alabama preferred walk-on invite. He had to leave early with an apparent concussion, but has been a huge part of Hoover's offense and special teams on punt returns for three years. His senior year, Sims accounted for 24 touchdowns: 14 running from the Wildcat, five receiving, three on punt returns, and two throwing.

Prattville's Jalen Whitlow is a 6-2, 198-pound Arkansas State pledge, and Florida State commitment Justin Shanks (6-4, 297) patrolled the middle as always.

Juniors to watch

Prattville left tackle Austin Golson (6-6, 260) is expected to remain firm in his FSU commitment. Hoover safety Devon Earl (5-11, 187) could be a lower tier SEC guy, and certainly a Troy/Southern Miss-type guy. If you're also Vanderbilt, Ole Miss or State, you'd be wise to get film of him. Earl had a first quarter interception and 17-yard return.

Connor Short (6-0, 184) has filled in admirably for injured senior Sam Gillikin, and finished 20-of-33 for 217 yards on the night.

Hoover linebacker Jamal Lucas (6-0, 207) has come on strong late, and his teammate Landry Tullo (6-0, 195 set a 6A state title game record with 17 stops Friday night.

Super Soph

I don't know if there is a better 10th-grade defensive or special teams player than the Bucs Marlon Humphrey. The 6-1, 172-pounder combined with Earl to pin Prattville at it's eight-yard line to start the game with a tackle on the opening kick. He later had a 43-yard kickoff return. This year Humphrey had six picks and scored five times on various defensive and special teams returns. He blocks kicks, too, and plays a huge role on the Hoover "wefense," the name Niblett gave his special teams. As in, offense, defense, and "we fence." I kinda like that.

Livin' the dream

It was awesome getting to do the halftime show on Prattville radio from a booth at Bryant-Denny, as someone with a pair of broadcasting degrees from the Capstone. I was joined by Jason Caldwell of the Auburn Scout site, and Lions radio network producer Stacy Mills set it up.

How ‘bout that ‘Q'

The evening press meal was catered by Full Moon BBQ, a proud survivor (even though it's McFarland Blvd store was destroyed) of the April 27 Tuscaloosa tornado. The pork sandwich was tender, but I'd have liked more sauce, and who wouldn't? Full Moon‘s sauce is that just right combo of sweet and tart, leaning to sweet. The chocolate chip cookie was tasty, and it was good that several jugs of McAllister's sweet tea were available. All in all, a solid meal.

Up next

FNL will endeavor to locate some underclass, in-state hoops prospects to write about should mutual interest be shown between that prospect and Alabama. One obvious choice is 6-10 Greensboro star Jimmie Taylor, but we'll try to uncover one or two more between now and the Final Four.

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