TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Prattville and Hoover, two national powerhouse football programs, opened the 2011 prep football season sharing the national limelight in a nationally televised ESPN doubleheader at Hoover in August when Hoover beat South Panola (Batesville, Miss.) and the Lions lost a close game to St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.).
Friday night at the University of Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium, a crowd estimated at 20,000 watched as the Lions and Bucs shared the state limelight in the Alabama High School Athletic Association's Super 6 Class 6A state football finals.
This time, Prattville and Hoover met each other in a contest televised live statewide.
This time, Prattville's defense rose up to make one more play as Coach Jamey DuBose's Lions eeked out a 35-34 win to close out the Super 6 Championships – attended by 50,047 over a two-day period as six state champions were crowned.
6A Alabama bracket
The headliner was the battle of the big boys. And it came down to the final seconds and s gutsy call to go for two as Hoover (13-2) lined up to go for the win. The Bucs scored with 46 seconds remaining to pull to within one when quarterback Connor Short ran in from the 2-yard line to set up Coach Josh Niblett's decision to go for two.
"We felt like our defense was getting a little gassed," he said. "We felt like it was our best chance to win. We had a good play called and our kids ran it well. Prattville just had a bigger play. Prattville does a great job with their schemes. We just needed one more stop on defense and one more point on offense. It was a great game. I love my guys to death."
Short took the snap on the try for two and immediately rolled to his right. He swirled out of the grasp of one tackler and passed back to receiver Jarrett Brown inside the 5. Brown turned toward the goal line but was met by two Prattville defenders, Leronji Vason and Lawson Debardelaben, who stopped him just short inside the 2 to clinch the win.
The championship was Prattville's fifth state title in seven championship tries and the second for Coach Jamey DuBose. It was also the fifth time the Lions and Bucs have met in the state finals. Hoover has played in the state championship game 15 times in its storied history with a 7-7-1 record.
Niblett has taken the Bucs to the state finals in all four of his years at the helm. His team won the last meeting in the 2009 finals 28-23.
"It was a great game with both teams making great plays," said DuBose. "We got one more. I have a great group of kids and coaches. That is what makes this championship special."
The Lions (13-2) fell behind 28-14 early in the third period when they got the break they needed.
Facing a fourth down at its own 30-yard line, Prattville got an automatic first down to the 45 when Hoover was called for roughing the kicker. Three plays later, championship game MVP Justin Thomas found Brandon Smith open for a 47-yard touchdown strike with 6:46 to play to cut the lead to 28-21.
Prattville tied the game three minutes later when Thomas, who finished with 151 yards rushing on 20 carries and completed 13-of-20 passes for 153 yards and another score, ran in from the 4-yard line.
Place-kicker Kegan Gaither booted the fourth of five key extra points to tie the game.
The Lions then took the lead 35-28 with 8:31 to play when Stanley Mays dashed 6 yards for the touchdown to cap a 15-play, 80-yard fourth-quarter drive with 8:31 remaining.
Hoover wasn't through, however.
The Bucs drove to the Prattville 24-yard line with two minutes to play but Short's pass on second down was intercepted by Dallas Powell at the Lions 1.
The Bucs defense stopped the Lions on three plays to force a punt and got the ball back with 1:28 to play at the Lions 30. Short scored on a 2-yard run for the touchdown with 46 seconds remaining to set up the final two-point play showdown.
Prattville scored on its first possession of the game with Jalen Whitlow running in from the 9 on the 10th play of the 92-yard drive. Hoover responded with a 12-play, 77-yard drive to tie the game when Josh Jackson hauled in a Short pass from the 9.
Short sneaked in from the 1 to give Hoover a 14-7 lead in the second quarter.
Prattville responded with a 72-yard Justin Thomas run with 6:28 left in the second quarter to knot the game at 14 all. Hoover then reeled off two touchdowns – the first coming with 2:16 to go in the half when Short scored from the 1 for the second of three rushing touchdowns. Bucs running back Kyler Jackson made it 28-14 with an 18-yard scoring run early in the third quarter.
Dakota Daniel led Hoover with 160 yards rushing on 24 carries.
Short netted only three years but had three rushing scores. He was sacked twice for 19 yards in losses. He was 20-of-33 passing for 217 yards and one score. Powers finished with seven catches for 88 yards and Jackson had four for 53.
Defensively, Landry Tullo had a 6A Super 6 record 17 tackles for Hoover. Teammates Blake Patterson and Matt McCay had 11 each. Se'Cortney Gardner had eight tackles and Justin Oates had seven to pace the Lions.
DuBose said his team needed a boost and the roughing-the-kicker penalty was just what they needed.
"Luckily on our behalf, their guy hit our punter," he said. "We were able to then come down and hit a couple of big plays to get back even. We then went down and got the game winner. Our defense then got that big, big stop."
Other games: Hartselle (15-0) won the Class 5A state championship on Thursday with a 13-3 win over Vigor. ... Marion County (14-1) won the 1A crown 23-12 over Linden (13-2). ... Elba (15-0) beat Tanner (14-1) in the 2A finals 34-14. ... Handley closed out a perfect 15-0 season with a 20-14 win over Madison Academy (12-3). ... Jackson (15-0) beat Oneonta (12-3) in the 4A finals 42-28.