By Lee Davis
Most people expected Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook to have decent football teams in 2010.
It’s unlikely, however, that many expected the Rebels and Spartans to enter week 7 with a combined record of 11-1.
Of course, there’s no way they could both be undefeated, because the two teams faced each other back on Sept. 3. Vestavia earned a 17-13 decision that night which easily could have gone the other way.
But as September turned to October, it was clear that the most pleasant surprises of the first six weeks were the teams commanded by Buddy Anderson and Chris Yeager.
Make no mistake: Hoover is still the team to beat, both statewide and in Class 6A Region 6. But the Buccaneers, after two lackluster first half performances against Gadsden City and Pelham, have shown a few chinks in their collective armor. So the idea of Vestavia or Mountain Brook upsetting Hoover isn’t nearly as unthinkable as it might have been just a couple of weeks ago.
Prior to the season, Vestavia was expected to be a typical Anderson team: tough, well-coached and committed to successfully running the football. On the downside, the Rebels were considered too thin depth-wise and too young experience-wise to make much of an impression.
As the season has unfolded, Vestavia has done all that was expected and more. Junior Georgie Salem immediately proved to be one of Metro Birmingham’s top running backs. The offensive line – led by all-state tackle Justin Ivory – has been even better than advertised. As usual, the Rebels rarely use the pass, but when they do, it’s effective.
For example, in Vestavia’s 42-20 rout of Homewood last Friday, quarterback Patrick Prewitt completed four of five passes – and two of them were for touchdowns.
The Rebels’ defense is giving up just over two touchdowns a game but consistently delivers a big play when needed.
Concerns about Vestavia’s depth have been allayed as well. Most expected the Rebels’ running game to drop off when Salem suffered a leg injury against Briarwood. Instead, sophomore Stuart Jacobs came in and looked like a Salem clone. He rushed for 90 yards on just 10 carries and scored in Vestavia’s 34-10 win over the Lions. Jacobs then rushed for 193 yards and three touchdowns in the victory over the Patriots.
And although Anderson will insist that his players keep their full attention on their upcoming test against Spain Park, the Rebels wouldn’t be human if they didn’t have that Oct. 15 meeting with Hoover in the backs of their minds.
Mountain Brook began 2010 as a team on a mission. Frankly, the Spartans had been embarrassed by last year’s lackluster 4-6 record and were determined to make amends this season. Yeager talked in pre-season about the importance of his squad playing “Mountain Brook style” football again.
The team started quickly, crushing highly-touted Shades Valley 37-11.
Walker Cox got the offense off to a good start by returning the game’s opening kickoff for a touchdown. Then came the heartbreaking loss to Vestavia, a contest which Mountain Brook seemed to have within its grasp until the very end.
The defeat, however, may have lit a spark in the Spartans.
“The Vestavia game reminded us of how much it hurts to lose,” said Mountain Brook linebacker Miller Williams. “Losing is not fun and gives us a very bad feeling. It’s tough to go out and practice the next week after a loss.
“We don’t want to have that feeling again.”
It’s possible they may not have that feeling again this year. John Beck and Mark Rector have given the Spartans their expected strong running attack. Edward Aldag – who started the final two games of 2009 at quarterback – was expected to be solid and steady, but instead has been spectacular.
Aldag and wide receiver John McCrary have become perhaps the most feared long-distance passing combination in central Alabama. For example, in last week’s 35-10 homecoming win over Spain Park, Aldag and McCrary connected on touchdown passes of 31 and 42 yards, respectively, in the second quarter. Gavin Golsan is also a standout receiver.
In the five games Mountain Brook has won, the Spartans have averaged 38 points per outing.
Just as impressive has been the improvement of the Mountain Brook defensive unit. Williams and defensive back Crawford Cox are among the leaders of a corps that has allowed only 11 points per game.
The Spartans will be heavily favored in their next two games against Oak Mountain and Thompson (who have only a pair of wins between them) before visiting Hoover Oct. 22.
Both Vestavia and Mountain Brook will probably be underdogs when they get their respective shots at the Bucs. But Hoover will need to play its best game to defeat either of them.