HOOVER, Alabama -- Tight end Jabari Gaines caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bennett Meredith for the winning touchdown with only 14 seconds left in the the game as the Hoover Bucs defeated the Thompson Warriors 24-21 to give the Bucs the Class 7A, Region 3 Championship at the Hoover Met on Friday night. With Thompson leading by four points with just over three minutes to go in the game, Meredith drove the Bucs 81-yards for the winning score.
Meredith completed six passes to six different receivers on the last drive to give the Bucs the region title. "We live for moments like this," said Bucs QB Meredith. "We executed when we needed it. They are a great team but we just run what we run and came away with the win tonight."
With Hoover driving in Warriors territory, Thompson (9-1, 6-1) created the first turnover in the game when Trequon Fegans picked off a Bucs pass and gave the ball back to the Warriors offense early in the game. The Bucs defense held the Warriors on a fourth down play and took the ball over around midfield.
Hoover (10-0, 7-0) took over and Lamarion McCammon caught a big pass down deep in Thompson territory. A few plays later with 3:40 left in the first quarter, Peyton Argent kicked a 29-yard field goal and the Bucs took a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter. Thompson took the ball back on offense and drove down the field for a score. A Conner Harrell pass to Ryan Peppins setup the Warriors touchdown. With 11:53 left in the second quarter, Justin Pegues scored on a 22-yard run and the Warriors took a 7-3 lead.
Hoover came back to take the lead when the Bucs drove down the field again. An Ahamari Williams long run, a KJ Law reception, a Cotton Peters reception setup the Bucs score. With 6:50 left in the second quarter, Meredith found Gaines wide open in the end zone for a Bucs score. With the touchdown, Hoover took back the lead at 10-7.
Thompson came right back again to get a score. On a third and 10 play, Harrell hit Pegues on a big third down conversion to keep the drive alive. On the next play, Harrell found Jaylen Ward on a 15-yard completion down in Hoover territory. On the next play, Harrell threw deep to Ahmari Bolden in the middle of the field for a 32-yard touchdown pass play for the Warriors. With 3:51 left in the half, Thompson took back the lead at 14-10 late in the second quarter.
The Warriors defense forced a three-and-out and put the ball back in the hands of the Warriors. On the first play of the drive with 1:55 left in the half, Harrell went deep and hit Ward on a 71-yard touchdown pass play. With the score, the Warriors led 21-10. Hoover came right back before the half and had the ball at the two-yard line with less than 20 seconds left in the half. On the first play, the Bucs gained a yard to the one-yard line and on the next play, the Warriors defense stopped Williams on the play at the half yard line and Thompson took a 21-10 halftime lead.
In the second half, Harrell did not play as he had ice on his wrist and did not return in the game. Thompson took the kickoff and drove deep into Hoover territory. Pegues ran for a big chunk of yardage and had the Warriors in Hoover territory. On the next play, backup quarterback Zach Sims found Ward on a big pass play down at the Hoover 8-yard line and the Warriors were about to go up big. On the next play, Sims was sacked on the play and Hoover turned away Thompson in the red zone and it was the big stop that the Bucs needed.
The game took another turn late in the third quarter when Hoover blocked a Thompson punt. With 1:33 left in the third quarter, Meredith found RJ Hamilton on a 25-yard touchdown pass play and Hoover cut the Thompson lead to 21-17. The game stayed that way until late in the game. The Bucs had chances to take the lead in the fourth quarter but the Warriors defense turned away any Hoover scoring opportunities. With just over five minutes left in the game, the Warriors made a first down, but coudn't get run anymore time off the clock and had to punt back to Hoover.
With just over three minutes left in the game at the Bucs 19-yard line that is where the magic happened. Meredith converted a third down pass to the Hoover 29-yard line and the Bucs were still driving. A Cotton Peters long reception took the ball down into Thompson territory. A Law reception along with a Hamilton reception took the ball down to the Thompson 10-yard line. On the next play, Meredith found Sky Niblett on a pass down to the two-yard line. Two plays later, Gaines gets the game winner in the end zone. "I couldn't look back right away to see Bennett," said Bucs TE Gaines. "So when I did pick him up, I saw him roll out to the right so, I broke with him to the other side of the end zone and thought if It comes my way, I will get it."
Coming into the game, the Thompson defense had given up only 26 points all season. Hoover put up 24 points, broke the Warriors 27-game winning streak and snapped a Thompson five game winning streak in this series. "For God be the Glory, I so proud of this team playing together and getting their toughness back that I saw in the beginning of the summer," said Bucs head coach Josh Niblett. "There were times where they got some pressure on us, but they were going against some really good players. For us to be able to manage the run game and throw when we want to, I can't say enough about the group up front. Everyone had a hand in this game and played the game the way it was supposed to play. I really have to thank the community for coming out and supporting us tonight."
Meredith completed 23-of-40 passing for 292 yards with three touchdowns and one interceptions while Hamilton had 10 receptions for 152 yards and a touchdown. Hamilton has huge in the game only playing in his second game of the season. "This means everything, all the dedication and all the hard work we put in we trusted it," said Bucs WR Hamilton. "The plan was to come back but wanted to get over my injury and just get stronger. A told the defense that if you get a stop and get the ball back it will be game."
Harrell only played a half as he was 8-of-10 passing for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Ward had four receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown. "You don't talk about going undefeated," said Warriors head coach Mark Freeman. "You talk about being state champions. This is a test for us to get better and find out who we are."
Up next, both teams are off during week 10 of the season and will host first round playoff games. Hoover will host Sparkman while Thompson will host Florence.