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AUBURN -- It’s a threepeat for the Hoover Bucs.
Josh Niblett’s battle-tested and burnished Buccaneers won the first Class 7A state crown and their third straight state championship by pounding Prattville 35-21 Wednesday night in the opening game of the Alabama High School Athletic Association Super 7 championships at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“All week long, we just talked about let’s be 1-0,” Niblett said of the Bucs’ focus. “We’re blessed.”
It is the Bucs’ 11th title and fourth in the past 10 years, furthering their spectacular run as not only of the focus. the top football program in Alabama as but one of the elite programs in the nation.
But it was extra sweet to dispatch Prattville, which had defeated Hoover in the 2011 final 35-34 and held a 5-3 record in eighth previous head-to-head meetings in state final games.
The Bucs set the tone on the opening drive, going 80 yards in 12 plays to score the game’s first touchdown. The drive culminated with Jack Hutcheson’s 7-yard pass to tight end Quincy Cox on third-and-goal. A defensive holding penalty and a pass interference call were sandwiched around a 15-yard Hutcheson-to-Leonard Wood pass play and a 17-yard run by Marcus Webb. With trips to the right, Cox found himself open to the left and Hutcheson’s pass found him in the end zone. Hunter Schmith’s PAT gave the Bucs a 7-0 lead with 6:23 left in the opening quarter.
The Lions came roaring back. Prattville quarterback Keith Washington passed 39 yards to Seth Knotts down to the Bucs’ 29. The Lions option game moved the ball down to the 2, but on fourth-and-goal, Washington was stopped cold dead for no gain by linebacker Jeremiah Moon.
The Bucs punted from their end zone and the Lions set up shop on the Hoover 42.
But after Prattville moved the ball to the 33, the Bucs defense stiffened and forced a punt into the end zone.
After another defensive holding call on Prattville, Hutcheson hit Alex Elam for a 27-yard gain to the Lion 41. On a third-and-3 from the 20, Webb cracked through the middle and cut to the left pylon for a touchdown with eight minutes left in the half. The drive covered 80 yards in six plays.
After the Bucs forced a three-and-out, they got the ball back on their 40 with 3:53 left in the half. The Bucs went 60 yards in six plays. Webb got loose for 23 yards, then Bradrick Shaw broke a 24-yard run to the 5 before finishing it off going off tackle for the TD. Schmith’s kick made it 21-0 with 2:04 left in the half.
Prattville took the kick and went 80 yards through the air, the final 50 on a Washington-to-Knotts connection. AJ Reed’s PAT cut the lead to 21-7 with 1:24 left in the half.
But that jubilation was short-lived for Lions fans. The Bucs went 80 yards in six plays in just over a minute. Hutcheson found Wood open deep on a fly route for a 41-yard score and the Schmith extra point made it 28-7 with 20 seconds left before the break.
Prattville took the second-half kickoff and converted a fourth-and-2, then Washington hit Knotts for 57 yards to the Buc 1. Washington scored on third-and-goal and Reed hit the point to end the 67-yard, nine-play drive and cut the lead to 28-14 with 7:44 left in the third.
But as before, the Bucs answered. They took their first possession of the half and, faced with a third-and-9 at their 40, Hutcheson found Elam wide open for a 30-yard pickup. Hutcheson hit Elam for 10 more, then on the next play, Shaw started around left end, ran into traffic, and reversed field for a 20-yard score. Schmith’s PAT made it 35-14 with 5:10 left in the third quarter and that’s the way it stayed heading into the fourth quarter.
An exchange of [unts left Prattville with good field position at the Bucs 46 with 9:18 left. A 17-yard Washington-to Derek Gappa pass moved the ball to the 17 but on fourth down Washington’s pass intended for Knotts was incomplete.
The Lions got the ball back at their 45 when Desmond Martin intercepted a Hutcheson pass after Elam was knocked loose from the ball.
Washington hooked up with Gappa for a 25-yard TD and the PAT made it 35-21 with 4:51 left.
Prattville’s lasy gasp ended when P.J. Hall picked off a pass with 1:50 left, and the Bucs ran out the clock.
Webb, wjho finished with 153 yards on 22 carries, was named the game’s MVP. Shaw racked up 101 yards on 19 carries and Hutcheson was 9-of-15 for 150 yards. Moon ended up with 10 tackles, one for loss.
The Bucs had 394 yards of total offense to the Lions’ 371. Washingtpn was 11-of-23 passing for 267 yards.
Photos courtesy Time Capsule Images.