The #3 Hoover Bucs will travel to play #5 Mountain Brook in a key Class 7A, Region 3 contest Friday night at Mountain Brook High School. The winner will get the #2 seed in the region and will host a first round playoff game against the #3 seed in Region 4 while the loser will travel as the #3 seed in region and will play the #2 seed in Region 4.
Hoover (7-1, 5-1) has been through a lot of adversity through the first eight games of the season. Injured have been QB Robby Ashford, QB Josh Lundy, LB Jeppa Kilgore, RB Dylan Betts Pauley and CB Cody Martin along with different offensive lineman at different times this season. "We have the next man up standard," said Bucs head coach Josh Niblett. "It gives the other guy an opportunity to do your job and don't let anybody down. We trying to build depth in the off season. Players need to step up. We needed players to step up the last five weeks. The toughest thing is when players go down and that they might not get to play in the greatest sport in high school football. I tell our kids we have to get better everyday because we have a high standard of championships."
The Bucs offense has been led by three quarterbacks this season and not by design but due to injury. Ashford was having his best day as a Buc against Thompson when he goes down late midway through the second half. Insert Lundy for a couple of series and he comes out of that game with an injury and can't play against Hewitt-Trussville next week. Up next, Evan Reeder against Hewitt-Trussville and the defense turned in two pick-sixes in the game and Reeder with his first varsity touchdown pass early in the second half and the Bucs come out with a win with a sophomore quarterback.
Fast forward to Week #9 and Lundy has made it back with Ashford just about to be heathy enough around the corner for the playoffs. "Reeder was in a must win situation against Hewitt-Trussville in his first varsity start," added Niblett. "Josh comes back after his injury has done a great job. He started as a freshman and really knows the offense. He has gotten stronger, he knows where to go with the football and he really knows our offense. He has to trust our guys knowing how to run their routes. The kids really respect him. His job is to get the ball to our playmakers hands. Last week, he had us in the two minute drill and made two throws that not many players can make that throw. Ashford is day-to-day and when he is 100 percent, then he will go. We need him healthy but I know he is excited to get back on the playing field."
The Bucs offense is averaging 33.8 points per game. At running back, Anthony Hayes has been that guy to take over a game late in the game. "Anthony has been unbelievable," said Niblett. "A great kid, a great leader. Works hard everyday in the weight room, meeting room, classroom, practive or in the game. He leads by example and has the it factor. He is a guy that we trust. He is running real hard and being patient to find the hole. We use him as much as possible. He is having a big year this last half of the season." Against Spain Park, Hayes rushed for 284 yards on 28 carries and four touchdowns. With Pauley injured Massiah Tolen has been in the rotation of backs this season.
At receiver, Jamari Buye, Ray Hampton, Malik Thomas, Cooper Tullo have made big plays for the Bucs this season. The offensive line injury bug has hit the Bucs and the next man up has been in play most weeks. Offensive lineman David Bodden has played center, guard and tackle so far this season. A very versatile player that has to learn a lot of positions for the Bucs line to play well. The Bucs defense is giving up 22.0 points per game. The guys up front have been steady. Joseph Davis, Samuel Suswam, Markus Clark, Amari Sanders and Drew Tountasakis.
At linebacker, Marcus Williams had a scope and score against Vestavia Hills last week. Add in Aarren Smith, Corey Warren and Josh Smith.
The secondary is a good as anyone in the state. Safety Cory Chapman is very versatile. He can play the run or the pass and can hit you like a linebacker. He has turned in two pick-6's this year for the defense. Matthew Palmer is another safety that plays more of the pass and tries to be that last line of defense on long passing plays. Corners Seth Parker and Codey Martin look to lock down anyone playing man and don't mind playing on the one-on-one island. "I see our secondary every day because I call plays against them in practice and they are very good," said Niblett. "They play with a nasty edge and a chip on their shoulder. They have good ball skills, good tacklers, on the back end we have been good recognizing formations. We have to follow our keys and be us."
Mountain Brook (7-1, 5-1) is coming off the 33-21 loss to Thompson last week and needed to make an early bounce back with Hoover coming in to play. "Everyone knows how demanding this region is," said Spartans head coach Chris Yeager. "Talking to coaches we are all beat up. Can you develop depth and the next man up mentality. Yesterday, I was so pleased to see how resilient they been in practice. We had one of the best practices on Monday, we have had all season. I was encouraged from that. I was looking forward over the weekend to see what Monday was going to be like. They lifted me up in practice and it was very encouraging."
The Spartans are averaging 28.4 points per game this season. It all starts on offense with quarterback Strother Gibbs. Gibbs is very versatile at QB as he can throw it or run it like a deer. If need be, he will lower that shoulder to get the extra yards for a first down. "Strother doesn't have a lot of stats but the stat that he has is that stat in the left hand column is that W beside it," added Yeager. "He is just a winner and just wills this team. His teammates love him. Unbelievable relationship he has with the team. He is a great leader. He just serves the other players and he is just a giver."
The running back is Sam Higgins. Higgins does a great job of finding the right hole to run in behind his crafty offensive lineman. The offensive lineman of Bo Hubbard, Ryan Kampakis, Andrew Fleming, Will Grant and Charles Regan know their stuff on the Spartan line. Due to all the formations that the Spartans run on offense, these guys are very knowledgeable about their craft. "Bo pays a lot of attention to detail," said Yeager. "He is a master of knowing how to use his frame on blocking. He is always asking questions and taking pride in improving. He loves the detail and is stumping me with some of his questions." The Spartans run the Spartin Spear formation where they all lineup in a straight line behind the center and come to their formation and other formations to put their team in advantages in running the football. The Spartans have a formation where their is no other lineman by the center on one side. Coach Yeager has been a master with his offensive line trying to maximize their skills at any playing weight.
At receiver, Ben Savage, Chris Wright, John Rucker, Jacob Thompson and Michael Brogan lead the way for the Spartans. Tight end Crawford Golden is a big tight end that can block or go at receiver with the best of them. "If a football field is a chess board for us, Crawford would be the equivalent of a queen," said Yeager. "You want to use him in multiple ways to run, block, catch. So we have to put him in position to play all these abilities. He does all those things extremely well. If teams go man on him that is a great advantage for us since he is a great pass catcher. We have to hide him a lot when a team goes man but when he is passed off that is a good advantage for us."
The Spartans defense is averaging 16.5 points per game. The main man in the middle of that defense is Clark Griffin. "Clark maximizes his talent," said Yeager. "Everyone talks about his size and uses it to his advantage. He has incredible instincts. He is 190 pounds but he tackles like he is 260 pounds. He is a heart player but will put the wood to you. His biggest stat is he is such a winner. He leads by example. Is a leader he has found his voice. He puts his words out there." Griffin has 103 tackles on the season and that will give him back-to-back seasons with over 100 tackles. Calvin Wilbanks is another solid linebacker for the Spartans.
Rob Gunn, John McKimmon, Braxton Wetzler, Win Horn and Ford Kelly are solid on the defensive line position. The secondary of Luke Gilbert, Blake Pugh, Logan Brewer, Will Yarbro, and James Nichols.
A lot of rain is coming into the area on Friday morning. This could be an interesting matchup if this game comes to running the football due to all the wet weather.