By Rubin E. Grant
Max Rudolph’s heart was racing, and then it dropped. He fell to the ground and shed a few tears.
What caused Rudolph’s emotional reactions was Hoover’s pulsating 3-2 victory against Enterprise in the AHSAA Class 7A boys championship game last Saturday at Huntsville’s John Hunt Soccer Complex.
The outcome wasn’t settled until after two overtimes and a shootout, which the Bucs won 5-3 on penalty kicks to claim their first state championship since 2003.
“It was a really good soccer game, and it came down to penalty kicks,” said Rudolph, the Bucs senior goal- keeper. “That made it a lot more exciting, but also more nerve-wracking.”
The Bucs (19-4-3) prevailed thanks to some clutch play from junior Richard Ujueta. He scored both Hoover goals in regulation, then was one of five Bucs to nail their kicks in the shootout.
Hoover’s lineup of Sam Bauder, Ujueta, Nicholas Ibanez, Igor Rudolph and Finn Dowdey all drilled their shots past the Wildcats’ keeper Logan Smith, with two narrowly getting by Smith.
“We don’t usually miss and we have the best goalkeeper in the state,” Hoover coach Kris Keplinger said. “If you have the best goalkeeper and don’t miss, you usually win.”
The first three kickers for both teams scored in the shootout and then Igor Rudolph scored to give the Bucs a 4-3 penalty-kick lead.
Max Rudolph then stopped Enterprise’s Anthony Venezia, bringing up Dowdey. After Dowdey’s kick found the net, the Bucs erupted in celebration.
“That’s when all the emotion hit,” Max Rudolph said. “My first year on the varsity we lost in the first round. Last year, I tore my ACL just before the playoffs and couldn’t play. To come back my senior year and win means a lot to me, my teammates and the school.”
Ujeuta was named the MVP. He tied the contest in the first half on a goal assisted by Ibanez at 34:34. Enterprise’s Sebastian Guerrero had opened the scoring at 21:32 when he slipped his kick into the net on an assist from Rasheed Bolaji.
Ujueta gave Hoover the lead in the second period with his second goal. Caleb Cusineau was credited with the assist.
The Wildcats (14-6-4) clawed back, however, sending the match into overtime when Andre Mazariegos scored with only 25 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the score 2-2 and send it into overtime.
Neither team scored in either overtime period to set up the final shootout.
Hoover advanced to the championship game after beating Florence 2-1 in the semifinals when senior forward Lawson Shaw scored a goal in the second overtime. Max Rudolph recorded eight saves.
“These guys worked really hard, and it worked out,” Keplinger said. “I’m really happy for them.”
Homewood Falls Short
Homewood faltered in its bid to repeat as Class 6A soccer champions.
Fort Payne scored twice in the second period and the Wildcats’ defense did the rest in a 2-0 victory against the Patriots (19-3-4).
“We came up just a little bit short. That’s all,” Homewood coach Sean McBride said.
Junior forwards Norman Romero and Kenneth Toledo scored goals for Fort Payne. Romero’s goal broke a scoreless tie early in the second period at 46:31. Toledo’s goal came with only 34 seconds remaining in the game.
Fort Payne freshman goalkeeper Alex McPherson had six saves, and Homewood junior keeper Noah Klein had eight saves.
The Wildcats (17-9-1) lost to St. Paul’s Episcopal (17-6-2) in the championship game, falling 3-2 after two overtimes and a shootout, 5-3 on penalty kicks.
Briarwood Ends Title Drought
Briarwood Christian (21-1-3) scored four goals in the first half en route to a 5-0 victory against Springville (20-7) to capture the Class 4A/5A championship.
Senior Logan Frost, who earned 4A/5A MVP honors, sophomore Trent Malloy and senior Jackson
Stubbs each scored a goal in the first 16 minutes of the opening half. The Lions scored again six minutes
later. Senior forward Hamilton Bowen scored the final goal at 66:10 in the second half.
Keeper Sam Candler had two saves for the Lions.
The title was the Lions’ fifth since 2001 and the first since 2013. Briarwood made it to the state championship game in 2017 and 2018 but lost to Randolph School in Huntsville both times.
“To get here wasn’t enough,” Briarwood coach Shawn Brower said. “We were going to do everything we could to not be denied.”
Briarwood survived a shootout in the semifinals against Montgomery Academy, beating the Eagles 5-3 on penalty kicks to pull out a 2-1 victory.
Altamont Loses in Final
Bayside Academy (20-2-2) scored two goals in a 14-minute stretch mid- way through the second half to beat Altamont 2-0 in the Class 1A/3A championship game.
Sophomore forward Rece Beardsley scored Bayside’s first goal on an assist from sophomore Trey Clements at 50:38 in the second half. Clements was selected Class 1A/3A MVP. Junior Sergi Cebrian added the Admirals’ second goal at 64:12.
Altamont (15-7-1) managed only four shots, three by Daniel Kutsch, against the Admirals’ defense and none on goal.
The Knights reached the championship game by beating Collinsville 5-1 in the semifinals.
Bayside won its second title. The Admirals also won in 2016.