To be honest, I didn’t expect either Hoover or Briarwood to come home with red runner-up trophies last weekend.
Instead, I fully expected both schools to win football championships in their respective classifications. But the fact they didn’t shows once again that football can take some funny (as in unusual) bounces.
In Class 6A, for example, who would have thought that Hoover’s potent offense would be held to a mere six points by the Daphne defense? In Class 5A, who could have predicted that disciplined Briarwood would commit five turnovers in losing to Spanish Fort?
But both teams had a lot of things of which to be proud. Hoover finished 14-1; Briarwood went 13-2. And both teams have plenty of talent on the docket for next season.
The Bucs’ and Lions’ losses, however, provided a surprising end for a season full of surprises. Here’s a quick look at some of the highs and lows of Over the Mountain football 2010.
Best Team. Although it fell just short in its bid for a state title, Hoover once again dominated Over the Mountain football, winning 14 consecutive games. This Hoover team had a shot at being the best in school history, but the loss to Daphne cost it that distinction. But 2010 was still a remarkable season for the guys in orange and black.
Best Story. Spain Park coach David Shores was removed because of an alleged practice field incident just prior to the opening game, and the Jaguars’ season seemed headed toward disaster. But Jaguar assistant Ben Berguson was named interim coach and immediately calmed the waters. Spain Park even made a nice run in the playoffs, something nobody would have expected after the earlier distractions.
Best Game. Nobody thought much about it at the time, but Vestavia Hills’ 17-13 win over Mountain Brook Sept. 3 may have been the most intense game of the year. Either side could have won, but the Rebels scored a late touchdown to secure the victory. The Spartans may have had the last laugh, however, when they defeated Vestavia 7-0 in the playoffs several weeks later.
Three Most Exciting Players on One Team. No school in Alabama had any more talent at its skill positions than the Homewood trio of quarterback Stephen Baggett, running back Ameer Abdullah and wide receiver Aaron Ernest. The only problem for the Patriots is that they compete in Class 6A against much larger schools. If Homewood was in the smaller Class 5A – where it belongs – the Patriots would have been championship contenders.
Most Impactful Injury. John Carroll’s Adric Merchant was going to be a superstar at running back for the Cavs before his season ended early with an injury. The loss of Merchant led to a disappointing season on Lakeshore Drive
Best Story Nobody’s Talking About. When Josh Niblett took the Hoover job three years ago, some people honestly wondered how he would handle the spotlight in the state’s highest profile high school coaching position. In those three years, Niblett has led the Bucs to the Class 6A finals three times and posted an overall record of 41-4. That’s a pretty good answer. A few, of course, will nit-pick the fact that Niblett is only 1-2 in state championship games. But the odds are, he’ll take Hoover to a few more of them before his tenure ends.
Best Kept Secret in Alabama. The continuing consistency and success that Fred Yancey has brought to Briarwood is the story that just keeps growing. When Yancey took over the program 21 years ago, the Lions were a perennial homecoming opponent. Now, armed with facilities as good as almost any Class 6A school, Briarwood is an annual Class 5A powerhouse. It’s truly difficult to find a situation where a coach is as perfect a fit at a school as Yancey – who just turned 65 – is at Briarwood.
Most Determined Optimist. Shades Mountain Christian went 0-10 in 2010 and came close to winning only a couple of times. Eagles coach Jonathan Loudermilk, however, stayed upbeat through it all. He never stopped remembering that his first job as a coach is to be a teacher. I don’t know how many games Shades Mountain will win next year, but with Loudermilk at the helm, the Eagles will never be losers.
The One Change About the Super Six Format That Should Be Considered. The University of Alabama and Auburn University have both done a great job of hosting the Super Six format since it was moved away from Birmingham’s Legion Field two years ago. On the down side, however, giant stadiums like Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny and Auburn’s Jordan-Hare are simply too big to provide much of an exciting atmosphere for championship games in the smaller classifications.
The smaller schools simply can’t provide enough fans. At times it was distracting to watch the small classification games on television because of all the empty seats.
Maybe the Alabama High School Athletic Association should consider moving the Class 1A-3A championship games to perhaps Regions Park or Montgomery’s Riverwalk Stadium. The downside there, of course, is that to do so would deny players at the smaller schools the thrill of competing at two famous college stadiums. To create a more intense football atmosphere, however, a move to a smaller venue would help.