The Hoover Buccaneers’ ship is not sunk, not by a long shot.
Immediately after the Bucs’ 20-13 loss to Vestavia Hills, there were people on Twitter, Facebook, message boards and call-in shows asking if Hoover was out of the playoffs.
To the contrary, the Bucs were a lock for the playoffs as of the second Spain Park, as expected, beat Oak Mountain. The Class 7A, Region 3 champion Jaguars are followed by Hewitt-Trussville, Vestavia Hills and Hoover. The Huskies are at 5-1 in the region, and Vestavia and Hoover are 4-2.
The Bucs could finish fourth, if they lose to Hewitt-Trussville on Friday. But if they win and if, as expected, the Rebels beat winless Tuscaloosa County, the three schools would be in a tie for spots 2-4. The importance of where you finish is that the top two teams host first-round playoff games and play the bottom two playoff teams from the Huntsville area Region 4. The fourth-place team in Region 3 will have to travel to top-ranked Bob Jones.
The tiebreaker system would proceed all the way to tiebreaker “L”: the number of wins of the non-region opponents you beat. So the Bucs are pulling for some out-of-state teams – Manatee, Fla., Oakland, Tenn., and North Marion, Fla., who the Bucs need to beat in the final week of the regular season. One drawback: Florida schools will still have a week of regular season play after Alabama is done, so they’ll lose a chance at picking up another win or two. So, it will possibly not shake out until next week.
But the key is beating Hewitt, anyway. And the key to that is Hoover not beating itself.
Penalties, turnovers -- and did we mention penalties? – have been the problems for the Bucs.
Seventh-ranked Hoover (6-2, 4-2) isn’t used to being in the position of wondering about playoff position. But coach Josh Niblett is only concerned with his team getting better every day.
“We can’t sit around and lick our wounds,” Niblett said. “We got to get ready to play. I think the kids are ready to get back out on the practice field and figure out what we got to do to get better ... Learn how to compete a little bit better, and the only way you’re going to do that is by putting yourself in those kind of situations. Want to make sure at practice we compete, get after it, play hard, work hard. Get the kids’ psyche up. It’s never fun when you lose, and around here we’ve not lost very much, and some people don’t know how to take it.
“I want to make sure we all stick together in this. I’m very fortunate and blessed to get to do what I do, and this is where leadership shows when you go through situations like this. This is when the kids look to you, and I’ve got to be strong, make sure I put us in the right direction. That’s my job.”
So a lot is on the line when the eighth-ranked Huskies visit the Hoover Met on Friday at 7. Josh Floyd’s Huskies (6-2, 5-1) run his mentor Gus Malzahn’s up-tempo offense, led by quarterback Zac Thomas, a dangerous runner and adequate passer. Running back Jarrion Street injured a shoulder last week but likely will play. Defensively, the Huskies, under first-year defensive coordinator Rudy Griffin, the former Alabama player, are aggressive and hard-nosed. The ringleader is linebacker Bailey McElwain, a Stanford commitment. The 6-foot, 230-pound senior will occasionally play on offense, and it’s at fullback where the Cardinal sees him. Defensive lineman Christian Smith, a 6-foot-2-inch, 260-pound junior, anchors the line in front of McElwain.
The Bucs’ defense has been good enough to win. They’re giving up about 13 points a game against region foes. Last season, it was about 10. As Niblett said, in both losses, the Bucs gave their opponents short fields after turnovers. They’ve had touchdowns called back due to penalties. Against Vestavia, the Bucs were penalized 17 times for 141 yards.
“We’re not good enough on offense right now to overcome that,” Niblett said.