Hoover's Christopher Vacarella takes off on a touchdown run against Manatee.
We’re a long way from the Super 7, but Hoover High’s Buccaneers are making some of the preseason naysayers thinking again.
More than one reporter at media days asked coaches and players in Class 7A, Region 3 if this is the year Josh Niblett’s Bucs could be had.
Certainly, with just three starters returning on offense and three on defense, it was a reasonable question.
But two games into the 2015 season and with two wins over out-of-state teams, the Class 7A No. 1 Bucs look pretty salty.
After handling Oakland (Tenn.) 24-6 and then looking even stronger in a 42-21 win over Manatee, Florida’s sixth-ranked team in Class 8A, the Bucs appear to be ready, willing and able to compete for a fourth straight state championship.
But there’s a long way to go, and region play hasn’t begun yet. And when you get into region play, two things come into play besides talent. While the Bucs may hold a psychological advantage over these schools they’ve dominated, the rival coaching staffs know the Bucs very well and know how to scheme against them.
That’s the theme as region play begins Friday when Hoover travels to Mountain Brook.
Mountain Brook is 1-0, rallying to beat Huntsville 16-14 Friday. The Spartans were down 14-3 at the half last Friday before getting untracked offensively. Connor Adair was 16-of-30 passing for 156 yards and a touchdown. Harrison Pyburn rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. Defensively, Joe Donald made nine tackles and Ford Alexander had a big sack in the closing seconds to preserve the win.
Spartans coach Chris Yeager is one step short of two milestones; his next win will be the 100th of his career and his 75th at Mountain Brook.
This is the 37th meeting of the team schools. Hoover has a 29-7 advantage, one of those losses a forfeit, and the Bucs have won 17 of the past 18 “on the field.” A 17-9 win in 2011 is the Spartans’ most recent victory in the series.
In Hoover’s win over highly regarded Manatee, quarterback Christopher Vacarella was sharp early in leading the Bucs to four touchdowns in five first-half possessions. He opened the scoring with a 42-yard run and hit his first nine passes. He hit Quincy Cox for a 72-yard touchdown pass to close out a 28-14 first half. He finished the night 16-of-26 passing for 241 yards. Cox had seven catches for 112 yards.
The running-game-by-committee was effective too, gaining 178 yards on 28 carries. CJ Sturdivant had a pair of touchdown runs.
“The kids did a great job understanding what we wanted to do game plan wise in all three phases of the game,” said Niblett.
“We were able to hit some runs that we needed to hit, based on what we saw from their front and their pressures,” Niblett said. “I’m proud of our kids, proud of our O-line because that’s not an easy bunch to run on.”
Penalties were again a sore spot. The Bucs had 126 yards in penalties against Oakland. They had some crucial ones against Manatee, a couple of them keeping drives alive.
“We gave them two third-down conversions by not getting off the field – we got to be more disciplined than that,” Niblett said. “That’s on me. We got to be able to get off the field at that point.”
Hoover has won 40 straight games against in-state competition. The last region loss? That 17-9 win by Mountain Brook in 2011.
Kickoff at Spartan Stadium will be at 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale at the Hoover High School Athletic Office and Bryant Bank on Highway 150. They are also available on the Hoover Athletics site through PrepTix.
Channel 68 in Birmingham will televise the game and it is scheduled to be available on the Bucs Broadcasting Network.