Larry Wooden heads for the end zone for the Jags.
It’s rivalry night in Hoover.
The top-ranked Hoover Buccaneers host the eighth-ranked Spain Park Jaguars on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Hoover Met.
The game is a crucial Class 7A, Region 3 game, with the Bucs 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the region and the Jags at 4-1, and also 3-0 in region play.
It’s also been designated one of the rivalries in The Great American Rivalry Series presented by the United States Army. One hundred games each season are so designated. An in-school Rivalry Fitness Challenge has taken place between the two schools during the week leading up to the game. The school that proves to be the fittest will be awarded a crystal trophy at halftime of the game. The winning team on the field earns year-long bragging rights with the Great American Rivalry Series Champions trophy, presented by the Army. The game’s Most Valuable Player and the top student-athlete from each school are also recognized as part of the Series.
As for the game itself, Hoover coach Josh Niblett is impressed with Spain Park running backs Wade Streeter and Larry Wooden Jr.
“They’re very physical running backs,” the Bucs coach said. “They do a good job taking care of the football. They’re pads are always going forward at the end of their runs and they’ve got good speed too.
“They do a really good job of getting the ball in those guys hands, and they do about run scheme you can do inside the box as far as trying to find ways to get those guys some creases inside.”
Spain Park coach Shawn Raney said that’s the Jags’ identity.
“The two running backs carry our offense,” Raney said. “We knew that when we sat down last spring when kind of thought about what we wanted to do.”
But he also has praise for senior quarterback Joey Beatty, a first-year starter, who’s been able to make plays in the passing game and not made many mistakes.
Raney, a one-time assistant at Hoover, said he knows what he’s up against. The Jags are 0-13 on the field against Hoover, although they received one forfeit.
“They have an unbelievable program,” Raney said. “But we’re getting better each week. That’s all you can ask for as a coach.”
Niblett said it will be a real challenge Thursday night.
“They are fundamentally sound in what they do on offense and defense and special teams,” Niblett said of the Jags. “Knowing Shawn and working with him for a few years, his attention to detail, he’s going to make sure all his T’s and crossed and all his I’s are dotted. So when you watch them on film, they play physical, they play hard and they’re where they’re supposed to be so they’re never out of position.”
Offensively for Hoover, Christopher Vacarella runs the show at quarterback and CJ Sturdivant has emerged from the running corps as the top rusher.
Both teams are fast and physical on defense and both teams are outstanding on special teams. Barret Pickering has done a great job for the Bucs and Jags’ place-kicker Crosby Gray has booted a couple of game-winners.