After playing in six state championship games between Hoover and Prattville, the two teams will renew a two game series the next two years beginning Friday night at the Hoover Met. Both teams split the six championship games between the two schools.
Hoover won the last meeting between the two schools in the championship game played at Auburn University back in 2014. "The kids don't bring it up much but the community does," said Lions Head coach Caleb Ross. "They community remembers the 2014 team the most, but definitely the community knows about Hoover and there great football tradition." Coach Ross was an assistant coach at Prattville during some of those battles with Hoover.
"Most of there players were in fourth and fifth grade when we won in 2014," said Bucs Head coach Josh Niblett. "But if you grew up in Prattville, you realize that the state champion was going to go through both teams for about 10 years and that was Prattville and Hoover. What an awesome way to bring that back to the Met and I think it is going to be an awesome atmosphere. I'm excited that we can get a gage where we are at by playing great competition. I always like to play a playoff team from the south to see where we stand."
Prattville comes into the game with a 4-1 record and have outscored their last two opponents 66-3 after the Auburn 22-0 lose. "I thought we are playing well offensively these last two weeks," added Ross. "That Auburn team is really playing well defensively, probably the best defense they have ever had. You take that game away, I think we are playing really well offensively. Things are coming together and really proud of that. We have a big stretch coming up. We have to get well offensively. It is a week to week deal but we are getting better offensively."
The Lions offense is led by first-year starter EJ Ousley, The junior quarterback has played well for most of the season. "I've been very proud of EJ," said Ross, "We has gotten better each week. We knew from last year as a sophomore that he had a chance to be really good for us. A smart kid, can make all the throws with a quick release. He is getting very comfortable with what we are doing." For the season, Ousley has completed 72-of-117 passing for 1,043 yards with 10 touchdowns and only one interception in his first five games.
At running back, Prattville can go with a rotation of four players. Albert Taggart, Keondre Powell, Omarion Parks and DJ Williams get playing time for the Lions offense. Taggart was held out against Dothan last week but looks to return for his game against Hoover. Taggart has speed while Powell can bring the power going north and south for the tough yardage. Parks and Williams can make big plays out of the passing game for the Lions.
The Lions receivers are very talented. Al'terious Bates, Davarius Fields, Zavion Smith, Jadarrin Powell and Kam Shanks lead the way. Bates has the speed that can turn a short pass into a touchdown on any play. Shanks returns punts for the Lions. Tight end Spencer Roy is very valuable with the Lions offense scoring on touchdown passes over the middle or making big plays on a screen pass. "Spencer is a tough kid and a very versatile player," added Ross. "He has such good hands, he makes plays when the ball is in the air, a very physical kid. He does a great job of blocking from the tight end position. He gets after it and wants to be good." Also, tight end Ren Wilson gets playing time for the Lions.
The offensive line has shown improvement of the years. Right tackle Joe Lane, right guard Javen Andrews, center Chandler Gibbs, along with Kavantae Broadnax and RJ Meyer have played pretty good this season. Lane is just one of those hard working guys undersized at his position. "He is an old school type player, that doesn't say much but is very productive for us," said Ross. "For a kid that is 6 foot, 245-pounds is very gritty and really gets after it. A very hard worker that doesn't say much, just does his job. Plays that position the way it needs to be played with great intensity."
The Prattville defense is very good. The linebacker combination of Ian Jackson, Eric Benson and AP Coleman could be the best in Class 7A. Jackson is an Alabama verbal commitment is very versatile and moves around in the front seven of the Lions. A very good pass rusher along with a very good tackler. Jackson has the speed to cover a running back if he is called to do so. "We have had good defensive line play that has freed up the linebackers," said Ross. "When you are taking on double teams that frees up the linebackers to go and make plays. Credit Tim Trottier and sophomore Carmelo Smith on playing well for us. I would put our linebackers against anyone in the state. Everyone runs away from Ian. Eric has been steady and leading our team in tackles. AP can run and is very versatile. Ian is a dynamic pass rusher that gives us some one on one matchups off the edge."
With Trottier and Smith on the DL are Jalin Herbert, To'mari Vinson, Tyrese Nunn, Jaderius Fitts and Wendeldrick Rawlinson. The secondary of Arthur Vaughan, Laderius Fitts, Ashton Lawson, Sysarien Vinson, Ghovon Furlow, Jahmir Cromblin and Malik Stargill all get playing time. They will be very busy against the Bucs very good receivers.
Kicker Collin Rogers is handling the kicks and punts so far this season. Elliott Duke looks to get back sometime in the second half of the season. Rogers kicked a 39-yard field goal against Dothan last week and has a big leg.
Hoover is 5-0 and have played pretty well in the first half of the season. Hoover has wins over Central-Phenix City and Oak Mountain, two of our Alabama7AFootball.com 7A football poll teams. "We know what teams are going to do, but it is about us. It is about our prep and our execution," added Niblett. "Were going to see what tendencies they have and look at the wefense, but at the end of the day it is about what we are going to do and that will never change."
This season at quarterback has been Josh Lundy. The senior QB is having a big season for the Bucs. "Josh has worked very hard to this point," said Niblett. "He has done a great job physically for him to play the way he wants to. He gets the ball out quick and can make all the throws. I think Coach Nib (Tad Niblett) being back spend some time with him has helped a lot. He is understanding the offense to get us in the best play for the team. There are times where we can help him but we want him to see it. We want to get a feel for it. He has the green light to cut it loose. He is still learning. We try to go through the scenarios to help him out so he is still growing as a player. For the season, Lundy has completed 77-of-121 passing for 1,324 yards with 16 touchdowns.
At running back, the Bucs have a full stable of backs. Dylan Pauley is the starter that has the size and speed to get the big yards through the tackles and has good speed in space. If Pauley gets hits the full speed at the line of scrimmage, he is hard to handle in the run game. Ahamari Williams is getting solid reps along with Jaylen Taylor, DJ Black and Lamarion McCammon. "The good thing about our offense is that we can throw for 300 yards or rush for 300 yards," added Niblett. "We keep getting better in the run game. Oak Mountain gave us opportunities and we took them."
The Bucs receivers are special. Malik Thomas and RJ Hamilton are two of the best in the state. Add in Isaac Lovoy, Joseph Buffett, Cotton Peters and Jacob Johnson. "RJ is just an athlete and a great competitor," said Niblett. "We have to to a good job of keeping him healthy. RJ is a mature kid because he always plays up. He is like a junior and senior on the field but he is only a sophomore. Last year, we didn't have one varsity player with a catch. This season we returned guys with catches so that helps us with continuity. Malik and Lovoy have played well this season with RJ. Were trying to create depth so we don't get our starters tired on playing every snap." At tight end, freshman Sky Niblett and Jabari Gaines are part of the Bucs passing game along with their blocking. Thomas has 23 receptions for 395 yards and six touchdowns, while Hamilton has 18 receptions for 445 yards and five touchdowns.
The offensive line is going to be key for the Bucs this season. As they go, so will the Bucs offense. Center Nick Paradise is the leader of the group. Jason Avelar, Jordan Washington, Brandon Baker and Adam Lepkowski are the starters. Christian Ledbetter is looking to get healthy and back into the rotation. "Nick is playing well for us," said Niblett. "I told him the other day just to keep cutting it loose. These young guys are going to get better each week. He is the the leader of the group with Adam. They played a lot of snaps for us last year. You have to get experience in playing in the games. Our guys just need to react better. When your young, there are so many looks you have seen. I seen some fast improvement from our line play. I just told them to get a little better each week and we will be where we need to be in the end."
The defense has been playing a lot better since the first game of the season against Central-Phenix City where they gave up 35 points in that game. Since then, the Bucs defense holds two shutouts in the first half of the season. Speed is the key to the defense, probably one of the fastest he has ever had at Hoover. "Our guys showed great effort last week against Oak Mountain," said Niblett. "When you play that type of offense, we did pretty good in our responsibilities. I can't say enough about our defense. Our defensive line were the players of the week. We have a lot of speed when the ball gets on the perimeter. Our guys answered the bell against Oak Mountain. Our defense is an attack defense with our speed.
Those defensive lineman are Amari Sanders, Demonye Estes, Markus Clark, Corey Warren, Andrew Parrish, Houston Vessey, Terrell Jones and Noah Rosser get playing time. These guys free up another strong group of linebackers in Shun Sheffield, Marcus Williams and Josh Smith. Williams has committed to Rice University.
The secondary didn't have a lot of experience coming into the season but is playing better since the first game. Matthew Palmer has the most of the experience from last season. Cornerback Massiah Tolen made the transition from running back to defensive back over the summer. Tolen has 4.25 speed in the forty and uses that speed in returning kickoffs for the Bucs. "We can still get the ball in his hands on kicks," said Niblett. "But he has great speed, physical kid with a lot of length to him. I though this would ad value to himself and this team. I proud of his development and comes to work everyday. He sees good receivers in practice everyday. I big time team leader and could have told us he didn't want to move but he did for us. His first day he looked like a natural. Very explosive player." Tolen has an Air Force offer he received when the season started.
Also in the Bucs secondary are Jay Avery, who had an interception against Oak Mountain last week, Joseph Thompson, Jamal Denson and Dale Miller. The Bucs secondary will go against a solid receiving core of the Lions Friday night.
At kicker, Constantine Hontzas is the kicker and punter and does an outstanding job for the Bucs special teams.
"This is a typical Hoover team that plays really hard and has a great scheme," said Ross. "They don't make mistakes, play hard and do the little things right. If you make mistakes, they are going to capitalize on them. They are playing really well right now."
"They are big and fast, just like the Prattville teams of old," said Niblett. "I knew when I cut the tape on that is what I was going to see. When the game settles down, who can make plays and the adjustments. Gives themselves a chance when the fourth quarter rolls around to win the football game. Highly impressed by them, we know they are well coached. He understands the level that you have to play in at these kind of games."