When they write the book on the 2011 Over the Mountain football season, there won’t be a chapter about a state champion. Hoover’s dramatic 35-34 loss to longtime nemesis Prattville sent the Bucs home as the runner-up for the third time in four years. The last final-game two losses ‚Äì Daphne in 2010, along with Prattville this season — were by a single frustrating point.
But the high drama of Hoover’s close-shave defeat was only one night in a season full of excitement and thrills. Briarwood and Mountain Brook’s outstanding seasons, along with the individual brilliance of players such as Vestavia Hills running back Georgie Salem, brought smiles to the faces of their fans.
On the downside, another losing season for Oak Mountain led to the resignation of Eagle coach Jeff Harris. John Carroll Catholic started with two impressive victories but followed with eight consecutive losses.
The year’s biggest story, however, had to be Hoover’s rise to reach its 11th state championship game in 12 years. What made this particular title run so special is that it probably reflected Coach Josh Niblett’s best effort since he took command of the program after 2007.
This edition of the Bucs featured a senior class that offered relatively few players with big-time college potential. Hoover also suffered a slew of untimely injuries, including the loss of starting quarterback Sam Gillikin in a mid-season game against Homewood.
The team held itself together even after a stunning 17-9 loss to Mountain Brook in November, marking the first time the Bucs had lost to an Over the Mountain team besides Vestavia in the 21st century.
Led by backup quarterback Connor Short, Hoover overcame all its perceived shortcomings to come within a failed two-point attempt of its first championship since 2009.
Ranking second as the season‚Äôs biggest story was Mountain Brook’s surprising perfect run through the regular season. Most predicted that the Spartans would be very competitive in 2011, but only the team’s most diehard fans would have predicted a 10-0 record.
The regular season’s highlight was certainly the upset of Hoover, when Mountain Brook overcame a 9-7 halftime deficit to earn its sweetest victory in years.
The Spartan players and coaches rightly credited a boisterous and wildly partisan home crowd as a major factor in the win over Hoover.
Hopes for a rematch with the Bucs in the playoff semifinals were ended with a questionable call in overtime against Oxford.
With his team trailing the host Yellow Jackets 35-28 in the third period of overtime, Mountain Brook quarterback Edward Aldag passed to ace wide receiver Gavin Golsan, who appeared to make a diving catch for what could have been the tying touchdown. Officials, however, ruled the pass incomplete and the game ended.
Golsan insisted he caught the ball.
“I wish we had instant replay in high school football,” Golsan said later. “But everybody makes mistakes, including players, coaches and officials. I’m sure they (the officials) think they made the right call.”
Despite the disappointing ending, Spartan devotees will be talking about the 2011 season for years.
The Briarwood Lions also met an unhappy finish in the playoffs, but not before producing a memorable season. Coach Fred Yancey’s team dominated most of its Class 5A rivals, losing only to Class 6A’s Vestavia in the regular season.
Briarwood had sharp claws on offense, breaking the 40-point barrier in six games. The Lions’ defense was strong as well, as it frequently gave up points only after the game’s outcome had been determined.
The Lions’ dream of a state title died in the Class 5A semifinals when they dropped a 16-14 verdict to Hartselle. But Briarwood proved once again why it‚Äôs one of Alabama’s most consistent high school programs.
Vestavia didn’t produce its usual stellar record in 2011, but Coach Buddy Anderson may have turned in one of his all-time best coaching jobs in his 34 years at the helm. The Rebels started the season with a dreadful 1-3 mark that seemed likely to get even worse. Instead, Vestavia rallied to win five of its last six games, earned a winning season and actually qualified for a playoff berth.
A big “but by no means the only‚” reason for the Rebels’ turnaround was the play of the redoubtable Salem, who was one of metro Birmingham’s most dangerous breakaway runners.
Homewood and Spain Park went through transition seasons under new coaches Doug Goodwin and Chip Lindsey, respectively. Patriot fans, however, were cheered by the news that their school has been reclassified from 6A to 5A, where Homewood football enjoyed great success under former coach Bob Newton.
In fact, the new alignments for 2012 might be among the most important stories of the outgoing year.
In large school Class 6A, Hoover moves to Region 5 with Tuscaloosa County, Northridge, Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa, Jackson-Olin, Hueytown, Minor and Bessemer City.
Oak Mountain and Spain Park move to Class 6A Region 4 with Prattville, Thompson, Pelham, Stanhope Elmore, Wetumpka and Chelsea.
Mountain Brook and Vestavia will remain partners in Region 6, with Hewitt-Trussville, Shades Valley, Woodlawn, Huffman, Carver of Birmingham and Gardendale.
In Class 5A, Homewood, John Carroll and Briarwood will be set in Region 4 with Chilton County, Ramsay, Sylacauga, Shelby County and Talladega.
Shades Mountain Christian will play in Class 1A, Region 6.
The new arrangements will create new rivalries and, sadly, probably end some old ones.
Alignments, players and even coaches come and go, but the 2012 football season almost certainly will be full of drama, surprises and excitement.
In that way, it should be exactly like the season just past.