Oak Mountain falls by 3 in playoff thriller at Hoover

By GRAHAM BROOKS | Special to the Reporter

HOOVER – Late in the fourth quarter, both the Hoover and Oak Mountain sidelines eagerly awaited a measurement to see if Eagles’ quarterback Evan Smith got a crucial first down on fourth-and-1 inside Buccaneer territory.

But when the slack was pulled, the result was a turnover on downs and Hoover escaped with a 24-21 win at home in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs on Friday, Nov. 13 to advance to the semifinals.

For Oak Mountain, it was heartbreak as the Eagles had a chance for a late game-winning touchdown drive but after converting two fourth downs late, the third try came up short.

“I’m really proud of them and the way they played,” Oak Mountain head coach Cris Bell said. “I thought we got the first down there at the end. I thought we got it by a lot and I have no idea where they came up with that spot but that’s life. Sometimes you get them and sometimes you don’t.”

The Eagles jumped out to a 13-0 lead, but Hoover outscored Oak Mountain 24-8 the rest of the way.

Oak Mountain was led by the running ability of Smith, who scored on runs of 20 yards and an impressive 47-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter to give the Eagles a two-score lead and early momentum.

Smith led Oak Mountain with 210 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

Last time these teams met in the regular season, Hoover quarterback Josh Lundy threw five touchdowns, and though it took some time for the offense to get going this time, Lundy made a big throw late in first half to bring Hoover within three.

Lundy dropped back and found RJ Hamilton behind the defense for a 62-yard score that cut Oak Mountain’s lead to 13-10 at halftime.

That seemed to get things going for Hoover, as the Buccaneers opened the third quarter with a solid 65-yard drive capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run by Dylan Betts-Pauley on fourth down. The touchdown gave Hoover its first lead of the game at 17-13 with 7:41 to play in the third quarter.

“Our kids have been behind and we’ve been in dogfights but this is Hoover,” Hoover head coach Josh Niblett said. “We’ve been in these kind of deals and we’ve been down during the year this year so our deal is don’t flinch. It’s a credit to our kids.”

After losing the lead, Oak Mountain wouldn’t flinch either, as the Eagles came back down the field on the next drive to regain the lead.

After a pass interference penalty gave the Eagles a first down at the Hoover 15, running back Judah Tait found some room up the middle to score and put the Eagles back on top 21-17.

It was then Lundy and the Hoover offense’s turn to respond as the Buccaneers drove the ball back in Oak Mountain territory where they faced a fourth-and-5 at the Eagles’ 21-yard line to open the fourth quarter.

Lundy delivered a strike over the middle to Hamilton where he took it 21 yards to the end zone to give Hoover a 24-21 lead.

Oak Mountain’s potent rushing attack kept Hoover on its heels and also bled the clock in the final quarter. With time winding down, the Eagles continued to get several yards while moving the chains but the fourth-and-1 rush by Smith at the Hoover 25 didn’t go the Eagles’ way with 1:14 to play and Hoover subsequently ran out the clock.

“Let me just say, first off to God be the glory man we have been fortunate,” Niblett said. “Back on June 6, when all this stuff was hitting, you didn’t even know if you would get to a first game. For us to have the opportunity for such a time as this to be playing it’s just a gift from God.”

The win by Hoover sets up another rematch with Thompson next week in the Class 7A semifinals. The winner will advance to the 7A state championship game.