By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
MONTGOMERY – The Wade Waldrop Era of Hoover High School football began with a loss Friday night as the Bucs fell 17-14 to the Auburn Tigers in the AHSAA Kickoff Classic at Cramton Bowl.
The season-opening loss was Hoover’s first to an in-state opponent since the Rush Propst Era opened with a 30-29 loss to Jess Lanier in 1999.
The game was a clash of Top 5 teams as Auburn had a preseason ranking of No. 3 and Hoover was No. 5.
“We’ve got to play a lot better than we did tonight,” Waldrop said after Auburn received the Classic trophy. “That’s the big thing. But I like the direction. I think we can get where we need to be. We’ve just got to get back to work.”
After a scoreless opening quarter, Auburn’s defense stuffed Hoover on fourth-and-1 at the Tigers’ 15 in the second quarter. Three plays later, Auburn quarterback Clyde Pittman hit Logan Blomeyer on a 76-yard seam route to the Hoover 18.
Soon thereafter, D.V. Williams scored from the 2 for a 7-0 Auburn lead. Williams wasn’t done, adding a 15-yard scoring run just over four minutes later for a 14-0 advantage.
But the Bucs didn’t lose heart.
“They were fine in the locker room at halftime,” Waldrop said. “They were still supporting each other. We just had to stay calm, do what we do. We had snapped it 39 times in the first half to their 20. We felt good about that.”
Hoover rallied thanks to its kicking game. Punter Peyton Argent pinned Auburn on its own 1-yard line. After three plays netted no yards, Freddie Dunson blocked Tyler McKinnell’s punt and Devan Carlisle recovered it in the end zone for a Bucs’ touchdown.
“We got down there tight and we were supposed to have another up-back and he stepped up,” Auburn coach Keith Etheredge said. “That caused a little confusion and we missed the guy. He made a great play. Hoover, they’re gonna make plays.”
Hoover knotted the score at 14-14 with 11:52 remaining in the fourth quarter on senior running back Ahmari Williams’ 27-yard run. But later in the quarter, the second of two lost fumbles set Auburn up at the Buc’s 16 and Towns McGough secured the win with a 36-yard field goal with 2:31 left.
“I thought our kids played hard,” Waldrop said. “The first half there was about a 4-point stretch there that I think turned the entire game, along with the two turnovers in the fourth quarter. We can’t do that.
“I think we’ve got a chance to be a good football team,” he added. “We’re a little down tonight. We were at a little disadvantage from an offensive standpoint starting the game off.”
Freshman Jonah Winston took the opening snaps for Hoover, but he was injured and couldn’t finish the game. Waldrop brought in regular starter Brewer Smith, who had just been released to play on Thursday.
“It’s a long season,” Waldrop said. “We know we just played a really good football team. Hats off to them. They played really hard. We’re going to correct the things we did wrong.”
Pittman completed 11 of 18 passes for Auburn for 140 yards. D.V. Williams paced the Tigers on the ground, rushing 17 times for 82 yards and two touchdowns.
Hoover’s Ahmari Williams had 17 carries for 131 yards. Smith completed 7 of 16 passes for 53 yards, and Winston, the younger brother of former Hueytown standout Jameis Winston, completed 5 of 8 passes for 29 yards.
Etheredge said his Tigers withstood Hoover’s comeback try in an opening game that featured a playoff atmosphere.
“Our kids got to lay it all on the line,” Etheridge said. “Hoover’s got a great football team. I was telling coach Waldrop, ‘Maybe we’ll see you Game 14.’”