Hoover Bucs football team 2013
It may feel like Saturday boasts the weekend’s biggest game, but rivalry week begins Friday night in Birmingham. It’s down to the final four teams in the State Football playoffs, and going head-to-head for a shot at the title are arch-rivals Hoover and Vestavia Hills.
For whoever comes out ahead, the victory will mark a milestone. Hoover stands ready to take its winning streak to 29 games, but a win for Vestavia Hills would move Head Coach Buddy Anderson’s career win total to 309 — tying him for first place in all-time career victories for Alabama high school head coaches.
Anderson could break the record by winning this year’s 6A championship.
Until last week’s 22-21 showdown with Florence, the Hoover Buccaneers had only appeared to be tested this season by the Vestavia Hills Rebels. During their game in September, the Bucs stopped the Rebels’ vaunted rushing attack and held them to only 7 points.
But Vestavia Hills’ defense flexed its muscle, too. It held the Buccaneers to 17, their lowest point total of the season. The Rebels might have lost the game by 10, but through 13 games, including its playoff matches, Hoover averages winning by a margin of 29 points.
“The thing I like about Vestavia is their approach to the game,” Hoover Head Coach Josh Niblett said. “They will play to their strengths and make you stop them. It might be third down and 12, and they’ll run the ball if they want to run it. In a way, that makes them less predictable, because they will do what they want to do.”
This will be the third time in the past 10 years that Hoover has faced Vestavia Hills in the semifinals. Hoover’s Wayne Wood, a longtime Bucs assistant coach and now the unofficial historian of the program, remembers the previous two — both Hoover victories.
“In 2003, [Hoover] won at Vestavia in double overtime in the semifinals, 31-24,” Wood said. “It was [Hoover quarterback and The University of Alabama star] John Parker Wilson’s senior year. In our other semifinal match, [Hoover’s] quarterback was Wilson’s younger brother Ross. That game was a 42-37 shootout at the Met, which we won.”
Vestavia signature attack is their running game, and star tailback Jordan Johnson has led the attack. Even though Johnson is one of Alabama’s top offensive players, Vestavia’s ground game sports other weapons. Christian Palmer and Joseph James have had outstanding seasons for the Rebels, and have helped Johnson carry the load.
Despite the headline-grabbing ground game, the Rebels’ defense has enjoyed a superb 2013 campaign. Even in their loss to top-ranked Hoover, Vestavia’s defense only allowed the Bucs into the red zone on two occasions. They sacked Hoover’s quarterback twice and had five tackles for loss against a talented Bucs offensive line. They have routinely shut down opponents, and have allowed their own offense extra possessions in each game.
At Hoover, all things begin with the defense that held the Vestavia Hills Rebels to less than one yard per carry in their first meeting. As expected with the Bucs, the defense is anchored by several players who are expected to play college football.
All-American Marlon Humphrey, currently ranked No. 9 on ESPN’s list of the top-300 high school recruits, is the one cornerback all teams avoid. Humphrey also serves as the team’s kick and punt returner.
“We work all of our players to improve, and that includes Marlon,” explained Niblett. Because teams so rarely throw to the guys he covers, we make sure that we work him hard in practice so he will continue to improve.”
The Bucs’ offense is led by quarterback Jack Hutcheson. Star running Bradrick Shaw, like Vestavia Hills’ Johnson, is one of the top players in the state as a junior. Marcus Webb has also enjoyed an outstanding season for the Hoover ground game, and Justin Johnson leads the receiving corps.
Iron Bowl Similarities
Friday night’s matchup has several surprising similarities to the weekend’s other big game – the 2013 Iron Bowl.
As the state’s No. 1 team, Hoover sports a perfect record and the glamour of being defending champions. Its roster of stars is headed to the next level, led by a coach who’s incredibly disciplined and successful.
Its challenger, Vestavia Hills, is a surprise team led by a brilliant coach whose running attack has brought it to a one-loss season and the opportunity to knock off the champs.