By Rubin E. Grant
Seasons come and seasons go, but not before a semifinal showdown in the state football playoffs between the Hoover Bucs and the Thompson Warriors.
The Bucs (12-0) and Warriors (11-1) will clash in the Class 7A semifinals for the fifth consecutive season Friday at 7 p.m. at the Hoover Met. The winner will advance to the Class 7A championship game Dec. 1 during the Alabama High School Athletic Association Super 7 Championships at Protective Stadium in Birmingham.
Thompson, the two-time defending Class 7A champs, has won the past three semifinal matchups against Hoover. The Bucs won in 2017 en route to their last state title.
“It’s going to be an unbelievable atmosphere,” Hoover coach Josh Niblett said of Friday’s semifinal game. “Our kids will have to lock in on our preparations during the week and be ready to perform well.
“I am looking forward to it. I don’t think the first one will have anything to do with it.”
The “first one” Niblett referred to was their regular season matchup on Oct. 22 at the Hoover Met when the Bucs rallied from a 21-10 halftime deficit to pull out a 24-21 victory on senior quarterback Bennett Meredith’s 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jabari Gaines with 14 seconds remaining. The victory snapped Thompson’s 27-game winning streak and gave Hoover the Region 3 title.
Thompson played the second half without senior quarterback Conner Harrell, a North Carolina commit who was injured in the first half. Harrell missed the Warriors’ first-round playoff game but came off the bench and completed 10 of 13 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown in the 45-7 second-round victory against Oak Mountain.
Harrell is expected to start Friday against the Bucs. Containing him and the Warriors’ other playmakers will be a priority, Niblett said.
“We can’t let them beat us over the top and we have to control the box (near the line of scrimmage),” Niblett said. “They have a lot of dynamic players and we have to stay in front of them.”
The Bucs survived an overtime thriller against Hewitt-Trussville in the second round, pulling out a 24-23 victory when linebacker Terrell Jones deflected Hewitt’s two-point conversion pass attempt that would have given the Huskies the victory.
Hewitt’s James Hammonds had scored on a 5-yard run to bring the Huskies within a point, but they elected to go for the win instead of attempting to kick and send the game into a second overtime.
“It was a good win,” Niblett said. “This time of year, it’s all about advancing. We didn’t play our best game, but we made some plays in the end to give us an opportunity to win the game.”
Junior receiver R.J. Hamilton caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Meredith to snap a 17-17 tie at the start of overtime, giving Hoover a 24-17 lead.
“It was an out-and-up route,” Hamilton said. “Bennett put it where it needed to be and I just had to go make a play.”
Meredith completed 23-of-37 passes for 188 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Hamilton had nine receptions for 103 yards.
Hamilton also had a big game in the regular season victory against Thompson, catching 10 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown in his second game of the season after missing the Bucs’ first eight games because of a shoulder injury.
He and Niblett both said the Bucs will have to play better against Thompson than they did against Hewitt.
“We struggled to find our footing against Hewitt,” Hamilton said. “We can’t play as sloppy as we did against them and expect to beat Thompson.”
Niblett said it’s a matter of scoring when the Bucs have that opportunity.
“We didn’t execute the way we wanted,” Niblett said. “When we get in the red zone, we have got to get some points. We had a couple of opportunities against Hewitt where we didn’t come away with points, including one where we had a fourth-and-one at the one and didn’t convert. To win a championship we have to convert those.”