The #3 Hoover Bucs will travel to #5 James Clemens in a Class 7A playoff game at Madison City Schools Stadium. The Jets are coming off a two touchdown deficit and a dramatic comeback win with less than seven minutes left in the game against Vestavia Hills last week. Hoover defeated Sparkman to reach this quarterfinal game of the playoffs.
Hoover (9-2) defeated Sparkman 21-3 last week and coming into this game with quarterback Robby Ashford with one game under his belt coming off a seven game layoff. "I knew he would start the game jacked up," said Bucs head coach Josh Niblett. "I thought he settled in and took command of where we wanted to take the football. Being out a while and getting comfortable with guys in motion, presnap looks and managed the tempo of the game. I thought he made some really good throws, scrambled when he needed to get out of the pocket and threw a couple of passes away. The RPO game did a great job. He made really good decisions and put us in good plays. He will keep on getting sharper and knocking the rust off." Quarberbacks Josh Lundy and Evan Reeder did solid jobs and won big games in region games that kept the Bucs in the playoff picture. When, Ashford has to scramble out of the pocket, he is one of the best with his size and speed. Last week, Ashford completed 17-of-28 passing for 218 yards & three touchdowns.
"Robby is such a dynamic quarterback," said Jets head coach Wade Waldrop. "The other quarterbacks did a great job stepping in when he was out all those weeks. Having him back with those legs makes them so much more dangerous. They play at a high level. A tough region 3 team and a big effort from us to win."
Running backs Anthony "Freight Train" Hayes, Dylan Betts-Pauley and Massiah Tolen have been the ground game for the Bucs. "Frieght Train" Hays came to life during the Vestavia Hills game where he ran over two defensive players, one during a touchdown reception. Hayes has over 1,100 yards rushing and receiving with 14 total touchdowns on the season. Pauley just returned from injury and had a couple carries last week after sitting out a few games with an injury. Fullback Will Whisenhunt is a very good lead blocker.
The Bucs wide receivers have come a long way since their game with Central-Phenix City. All the Bucs receivers came into the season with zero varsity catches but have been a solid impact in the offense. Jamari Buye, Cooper Tullo, Malik Thomas and Ray Hampton are having great contributions this season. Tight end Dawson Rye adds good blocking at the line of scrimmage. Last week against Sparkman, Thomas had six receptions for 59 yards and three touchdowns. Thomas had scoring receptions of 8-yards, 11-yards and 15-yards from Ashford.
The Hoover offensive lineman as a group have faced great adversity especially David Bodden. Bodden sat out against Sparkman last week, but has played tackle, guard and center this season. Juan Sparks, Nick Paradise, Christian Ledbetter and Adam Lepkowski round out the offensive line for the Bucs. Luke Godwin and Harrison Ozgun are out due to injury. Both started the season on the Bucs offensive line.
The Bucs defense has been pretty solid for much the whole season. The defensive front of Samuel Suswam, Joseph Davis and Drew Tountasakis have played well. Last week, Davis had five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. Also, Davis had a pick-6 against Hewitt-Trussville earlier this season.
The linebackers of Aarren Smith, Josh Smith, Marcus Williams, Carver Milliron and Jason Riles are solid. Milliron and Riles have filled in for Jeppa Kilgore who is out with an injury the last few weeks. "We are improving in that area," said Niblett. "For these new guys coming in and getting reps is big. Getting to watch tape from a starter to a reserve is completely different and they are getting a chance to see how they do. We have a little depth in the spot and the two guys filling in are improving so they both bring some different things to the table. We have to be good tacklers. They want it to turn into a physical game so we have to be ready for that. We understand that. They want to pound you with their will. We have to limit their first down play and put them in third and long and not let their speedy receiver get behind us when they take their shots."
The secondary is special and have at least six pick-6's this season. Kory Chapman at safety can turn into a linebacker and support the run or play the pass. He is an aggressive player that likes to take a few chances and they have paid off at times. Safety Matthew Palmer is usually the deep man in the secondary. Cornersbacks Codey Martin and Seth Parker are solid and will have their hands full against the Jets receivers.
"The defense played really, really well," added Niblett. "We missed a few plays but when we do our job, we are really, really good. I'm proud of that side of the ball. They have to keep playing with an edge. It's November so you have to stop the run and make teams one demensional. If we can do that, the defense can be really special."
James Clemens (9-2) is riding a nine-game winning streak after dropping their last loss to Clay-Chalkville after week #1. The Jets offense is averaging 42.0 points per game. James Clemens play two different quarterbacks during the game. Connor Cantrell gets most of the plays and can throw the football. Cantrell has completed 129-of-187 passing for 1,935 yards with 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions in 11 games. Chase Starling is the running QB but has throwing plays. He has completed only 6-of-7 passing for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Starling has 516 yards on 84 carries and 12 touchdowns in his 11 games. That is a 6.1 yards per rush average.
The Jets have one of the best running backs in 7A. Dylan Blackburn has 1,079 yards on 152 carries with 15 touchdowns. He has a whopping 7.1 rushing average per attempt. He has a 73-yard rushing touchdown on the season. J.T. Elliott has 482 yards on 81 carries and five touchdowns. "They have a grown man at running back," added Niblett. "He can run, powerful, doesn't go down after the first contact and he takes care of the football."
The Jets offense has to go through wide receiver/safety Chris Hope. Hope has 986 yards on 61 catches and 10 touchdowns. He has a 16.2 yards per catch average and will be one of the fastest players on the field. "Chris is such a competitor and came on the scene as a sophomore and became an all-state player for us," said Waldrop. "He had injuries last season but had some nagging injuries but has grown so much. He doen't miss a day of practice. He loves to compete. Tackling, blocking and catching the football, he loves the compitition. He wants to be around the ball and is a heck of a football player."
Wide receivers Manny Sanders has 434 yards on 30 receptions and five touchdowns, Tyrik Walker has 147 yards on 10 catches and two touchdowns, Gary Landrum has 150 yards on nine receptions and two touchdowns. Tight end Chris Baker has 193 yards on 8 receptions and two touchdowns. Starling will get some plays at tight end.
The offensive line is big and powerful and will need to play their best game of the season for the Jets offense to be successful. Christian Brown, Dakota Bell, Jordan Johnson, Zach Taylor and Ryan Keepers are the blockers to give Cantrell time to throw and Blackburn holes to run. "The key for us Friday night will be the offensive line," said Waldrop. "I thought the Clay game and Vestavia games we were not very good with our technique. We have to make sure we improve and be in the right place and I think it hampered us at times on offense last week. Late in the game, we got in rythem and it helped us get going.
The Jets defense is solid. The linebackers of Keontae Strother, Chance Starling, Nathaniel Blanton and Jaylin Grisby will need a big game against the Bucs offense. The front three of Kimardre' Edwards, Courtney Coleman and Tyler Bastow will need to play big upfront. "I thought our defense was outstanding against Vestavia," added Waldrop. "We gave up that long pass early but this a great job in the box giving up only 39 rushing yards. We put our corners on a island for that game and I don't think we do that from here on out but we asked them to play man with no help."
The secondary will get tested like they did against Vestavia Hills last week against some speedy Bucs receivers. Jon Granger, Collin Malone, Tyrone Wilson, Devon Hadaway and Darius Holden will get their chances to defend Ashford and the Bucs offensive air attack.
"That was a heck of a football team in Vestavia last week," said Waldrop. "A well coached football team with a lot of seniors. Being on that field coaching against Coach Anderson, it is a honor because we don't get to this every week play against a great Vestavia team."
Back on November 11, 2016, Hoover defeated James Clemens 14-7 in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs.