By Lee Davis
Rush Propst had spent many hours at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, a place where he led his former team–the Hoover Bucs–to five state 6A football championships.
But last Thursday as his current team, the Colquitt County, Ga., Packers, went through its pre-game walk-through for its upcoming battle with the Bucs, Propst faced a minor dilemma: He didn’t know where the visiting team’s locker room was located.
“First door on the left,” a stadium worker had to tell him.
Perhaps Propst’s blissful ignorance was understandable. For nearly 10 years, there was no reason for him to know where the team he was likely to defeat put on its uniforms and headgear.
And while Propst hadn’t coached in Alabama for six years, the state he once dominated is still a basic part of his makeup. So much, in fact, that he used the example of his greatest rival at Hoover to inspire his Packer team.
“Be like Vestavia (Hills),” Propst told his players. “Be businesslike. That’s why they whipped me so much. Treat it like a business.”
Propst was referring to the fact that, in his era at Hoover, no team in Alabama had as much success against the Bucs as Buddy Anderson’s Rebels. And it was clear Propst’s players had heard it previously. To understand the depth of Propst’s continued fixation with football in Alabama, think of this: How many other high school football players in Georgia know anything about the Hoover-Vestavia rivalry?
But the former Hoover coach’s nostalgia came in direct contact with the present reality the next evening. And at the end, the program Propst built just may be bigger and better than ever.
The Bucs rallied from a 10-3 halftime deficit to control the final two quarters and send Propst and his Packers back to the Peach State on the losing end of a 24-10 count as 12,000 fans watched. An ESPNU audience viewed the contest on a tape-delayed basis.
“We teach that football is often a game of inconvenience,” Hoover coach Josh Niblett said. “There is always going to be some inconvenience when things don’t go your way. The way our kids reacted when things weren’t going our way made the difference in the game.”
The Bucs got a big break from their defense to set up their first points of the 2013 season. Darrell Williams intercepted a pass from Packer quarterback Daniel Mobley at the Colquitt County 19-yard line. Hunter Schmith booted a 30-yard field goal to give the hosts a 3-0 lead with 3:24 remaining in the first period.
Undaunted, the Packers rallied quickly. Sihiem King’s three-yard scoring run gave Colquitt County a 7-3 lead as the opening quarter ended.
With first-time starting quarterback Jack Hutcheson still trying to find his game, Hoover’s offense struggled in the second period. The Packers’ Luis Martinez kicked a 32-yard field goal late to give the visitors a 10-3 halftime advantage, and for a short time it seemed that Propst might be working his old Hoover Met Magic.
But not for long.
In the second half, the Bucs took command. Niblett substituted liberally in his offensive line to keep his players fresh. On Hoover’s first drive of the third quarter, Bradrick Shaw scored on a one-yard plunge.
Schmith’s extra point tied the game 10-10 with 6:26 remaining in the period.
Hutcheson, a junior, found his rhythm, and that was bad news for Colquitt County. He connected with Leonard Wood on a 49-yard scoring bomb to put the Bucs ahead 17-10 with only 2:41 to play in the quarter.
Hoover’s final touchdown came in the last two minutes of the game. Hutcheson, passing on a fourth and two situation, drilled a 20-yard strike to Kris Parker for the score.
Despite the slow start, Hutcheson emerged as a star of the game. He completed his final five passes for 100 yards and two scores and rushed for 28 yards on five carries.
Shaw gained 57 yards on 14 carries, while Wood caught two passes for 60 yards.
The big story, however, may have been the play of the Bucs’ defense, which held the Packers to only 76 yards in 43 attempts.
“We saw a lot of growth in our team tonight,” Niblett said. “Everybody talks about our defense, but we’ve got some guys in key spots that didn’t get much playing time last year.”
Hoover’s performance was far from spectacular. But it was plenty good enough to get the job done. Nothing came out of the night to give anything less than the impression that the Bucs are ready for another state title bid.
Propst invented a new word when describing the difference in the game.
“We got Hooverized,” he said. “They did what they do best. They just had too much of everything that was good.”
Call it Hooverizing. Call it winning. Rush Propst may have laid the foundation, but Josh Niblett has taken it to the next level.