By Lee Davis
Journal Sports Writer
The game of football – just like life itself – is full of surprises.
For example, if someone could have looked into a crystal ball and seen that Hoover would hold Daphne to seven points in the state 6A championship game at Jordan-Hare Stadium, they would have predicted a Bucs victory.
By the same token, if someone with that same crystal ball had seen that Hoover would have a first and goal situation with less than two minutes to play to win the championship, they likewise would have predicted a Bucs victory.
In real life, however, they would have been wrong on both counts.
For 48 minutes, Hoover gave all the effort it had. But for most of those 48 minutes, Daphne had just a little bit more.
In the end, the Trojans had a 7-6 win to earn their first state 6A championship since 2001.
“Everybody wants to win,” said Hoover coach Josh Niblett, now 1-2 in state 6A title games. “We didn’t come here to take a red (runner-up) trophy home. But sometimes this is what happens.
“I tell our players that one day they are going to be working and raising a family and something isn’t going to go the way you want. That’s when they will draw from the experience they had tonight.”
The Bucs aren’t likely to forget the evening of December 3, 2010, for a long time.
Hoover started off strong in the opening period. The Bucs moved to the Daphne 30-yard line before giving up a fumble.
They drew blood later in the quarter. Quarterback Ryan Carter connected with Reginald Johnson for a 47-yard scoring strike to give Hoover a 6-0 lead with only 47 seconds remaining in the period. The conversion attempt, however, failed and would come back to haunt the Bucs later on.
The rest of the night, Hoover would struggle offensively. The Bucs rushed for a mere 32 yards for the entire night.
“We couldn’t get our running game going,” said Niblett, “and that hurt us badly.”
But despite Hoover’s problems moving the football, its lead held up until early in the fourth quarter. Daphne’s T.J. Weldon scored a touchdown on a three-yard run with 10:57 remaining in the game.
Brandon Roberts’ all-important extra point gave the Trojans a one-point advantage that would hold for the ages.
With just minutes remaining in the game, Hoover put together an impressive drive from its own 37-yard line. The Bucs moved to the one-yard line. From there, they had what appeared to be the go-ahead touchdown nullified by an illegal procedure penalty with 1:23 on the clock.
The penalty moved the ball back to the Trojans’ six-yard line. Three ensuing plays netted only one yard, and Hoover faced a fourth and goal situation. The obvious call was a field goal, and the Bucs’ Larsen Real is one of Alabama’s finest place kickers.
Hoover looked like it had money in the bank, but in today’s economy nothing’s a sure thing. Neither was Real’s kick. The snap was high, and the 22-yard attempt went wide to the left.
Daphne ran out the clock.
Afterward, Hoover players handled their disappointment with class.
“Daphne deserved it. I salute them,” said Buccaneer tackle Blake Burks. “They won. There’s nothing to cry or gripe about.
“I’m so proud to play for Hoover with this great bunch of guys and coaches. You can’t blame any of this on Larsen or the rest of the kicking team. We never should have put them in this position.”
The Bucs saw their season end with a 14-1 record and their reign as state 6A champions end after one year. Hoover defeated Prattville 28-23 in last year’s title game at Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The Bucs lost to Prattville in the championship game at Legion Field in 2008, Niblett’s first season as the Hoover coach.
Although the Bucs managed only six points, Carter completed 13 of 23 passes for 222 yards. Ace Buc receiver Jaylon Denson caught eight passes for 124 yards.
“Losing doesn’t feel good,” said Niblett. “At Hoover we’re not used to losing, and we don’t want to get used to it.
“But when it happens, we will accept it with character.”
And that’s no surprise.