By Lee Davis
Buddy Anderson is the winningest coach in the history of Alabama high school football.
And while Anderson probably wouldn’t admit it, he’s probably never had a sweeter victory than the one his Vestavia Hills Rebels earned last Friday night.
A late touchdown by Walker Minor gave Vestavia a 20-13 upset of defending three-time state champion Hoover at the Rebels’ Thompson Reynolds Stadium. It marked the Rebels first win over their arch-rivals since 2009.
“The play was very similar to one we scored on in the Oxford game,” Walker said, describing his touchdown. “The blocking was there and I just ran to the goal line.”
Minor’s touchdown was set up by quarterback Brent Jones 29-yard pass to Remington Patterson. Patterson was interfered with by a Buccaneer defender, but he still made a spectacular catch.
“He grabbed my jersey, but I wasn’t going to not try to catch it and let them call pass interference,” Patterson explained. “When the ball got close, I tried to grab it. It wasn’t until I’d pulled the ball in that I realized I’d caught it.”
Vestavia saw its record move to 6-2 overall and 4-2 in Class 7A Region Three play. Hoover has an identical record, but has lost two of its last three games, including 17-0 shutout at the hands of Spain Park two weeks earlier. The Jaguars clinched the region championship with a 20-10 win over Oak Mountain as Vestavia was defeating Hoover.
The Rebels got the game’s first break when Levi Wiggins intercepted a Hoover pass and returned it to the Bucs 16 yard line in the opening period. Jones’ one-yard quarterback sneak gave Vestavia a 7-0 lead.
Hoover rallied with an 80-yard touchdown drive. C.J. Sturdivant’s three yard touchdown pass to Joseph Timpa tied the game at 7-7 as the first quarter ended.
Vestavia was flagged for a personal foul on the Bucs extra point attempt, allowing Hoover to kick-off from the Rebels’ 45. Barret Pickering’s onside kick was recovered by the Bucs’ Temarcus Bryant at the Vestavia 30.
Hoover couldn’t get in the end zone, but Pickering’s 33-yard field goal gave the visitors a 10-7 lead.
The Rebels matched the score when Curry Howard’s 19-yard field goal tied the game at 10-10 with less than five minutes remaining in the first half.
Early in the third quarter, Vestavia pushed to the Hoover three yard line, from where Howard’s 20-yard field goal gave the Rebels a 13-10 lead.
The Bucs got a break of their own late in the third quarter when the Rebels fumbled a punt return and Trent Whisenant recovered in Vestavia territory.
A holding penalty nullified a Hoover touchdown, so Pickering kicked a 32-yard field goal that tied the game 13-13 with 10 minutes remaining in the game.
The stage was then set for Patterson’s catch and Minor’s winning touchdown run.
Hoover attempted several long passes toward the Vestavia goal line before time expired, sparking a wild celebration from the partisan Rebel crowd.
Among the many heroes for Vestavia was the rugged defensive unit, that forced two Hoover turnovers, and stopped the Bucs on several fourth-and-short yardage situations. Hoover also hurt itself with 17 penalties for 141 yards.
“We did a lot of things to hurt ourselves, but give Vestavia credit,” said Buccaneer coach Josh Niblett. “They made the plays they had to make and we didn’t.”
Minor led the Vestavia running attack with 99 yards on 29 carries.
“Beating Hoover for the first time in my career was a lot of fun,” he said. “Growing up, I never dreamed I’d score the winning touchdown in a Vestavia-Hoover game, but I sure am glad it happened.”
The senior running back credited his teammates on the defensive side of the ball for the victory. “They were great,” he said. “They forced turnovers and gave us the ball in good field position. You can’t say enough about them.”
After a disappointing 3-7 record in 2014, Minor said that the Rebel victory may have put the program back in the limelight.
“Personally I kind of like being the underdog, where nobody expects you to win,” he said. “But people are going to notice us now.”