By WILL HIGHTOWER
Conventional wisdom usually holds true in high school football. For the most part, the teams that are traditionally good are good, and the teams that either don’t have the athletes or don’t have the resources are at the bottom. So going into the Hoover vs. Mountain Brook game, conventional wisdom said that Hoover would win, like they had for the last 26 years.
Mountain Brook’s players and fans took that conventional wisdom and stomped on it that Friday night in Spartan Stadium, beating the Bucs 17-9 in one of the most memorable nights in recent memory.
“It was incredible; one of the best nights of my life,” said senior cornerback Hilyer Isbell, who sealed the win with an interception on the final play. “It was like everything we had dreamed of since we were young and everything that we have worked for finally paid off.”
“I’ve never been happier in my life,” senior safety Zach Gillen said.
“It was the single most memorable win I’ve ever had,” senior defensive lineman Harry Reich said. “It feels like a big weight has been lifted off our back.”
“It’s a really cool feeling to know that we were the team to end the streak,” senior cornerback Alan Gambril said. “Everyone on the team will remember this feeling for quite some time.”
Since Berry High School changed to Hoover in 1984, the Spartans had never beaten the team. In fact, no one besides Vestavia had beaten Hoover in a region game since Pelham did in 1999.
Both Hoover and Mountain Brook came in at 8-0 on the year, and with a passionate home crowd at their back and the Region 6 championship on the line, the Spartans knew that they had to win this one. In fact, all week, there was never any talk about losing.
In the halls of Mountain Brook High School, school spirit took over like never before. The halls pulsated with talk about Friday’s game, much more so than usual. Students ordered 60 shirts for the student section’s “green-out” that read “Beat Hoover,” all of which sold out in less than 24 hours. On Thursday, the front desk was busy handing out “Beat Hoover” stickers that were put on cars, shirts and anything else they would stick to. Cheerleaders took up Gatorade bottles to make noisemakers. And social media sites like Twitter and Facebook exploded with statuses and conversations about the Friday night showdown.
“The week leading up to the game was crazy,” senior Cole Dunn said. “Everyone really got on board and wanted to win. It was all everyone was talking about.”
The night before the game, about 60 students met in the stadium to practice cheers for the next night.
“The only other students that meet before games is Texas A&M’s,” principal Vic Wilson said. “Our student section is the best I’ve seen.”
The students’ preparation and anticipation paid off; at 5 o’clock Friday afternoon, the student section was packed, infusing the team with energy during their pregame warm-ups. Some students didn’t even leave the school, tailgating after eighth period and heading into the game hours early. Five hours later, they joined the team on the field for a jubilant celebration.
“The student section was amazing,” Reich said.
“Being that loud for that long…I feel like we really did make a difference,” Dunn said. Apparently others agreed; Jeff Sentell of The Birmingham News, who predicted the Spartans to lose, gave the mythical game ball to the student section.
The actual game on the field was a little different than most of Mountain Brook’s games this year. The defense was a little shaky in the second quarter, and workhorse running back Mark Rector never really got going, earning 66 tough yards on 34 carries and one touchdown. The Spartans were forced to rely on the passing game to get first downs. Quarterback Edward Aldag hooked up with receiver Coates Doss seven times for 89 yards, many of those for crucial third down conversions. Receiver Gavin Golsan also had another big game, scoring on a 9-yard reverse.
Hoover committed two costly turnovers in the red zone in the first half yet still took a 9-7 lead into halftime. But the second half was all Mountain Brook. Senior kicker Warren Handrahan added a field goal along with Golsan’s touchdown, and the defense rose to the occasion. They shut Hoover out and ended the game with Isbell’s pick, ensuring the Spartan’s first region title since 2003. Then it was celebration time.
As the students stormed the field, led by principal Wilson, joyous hugs were exchanged and pictures were taken of the scoreboard. Once the celebration calmed a bit, head coach Chris Yeager gave a post-game speech to the players, students and parents on the field.
“It was a community effort,” Yeager said of the victory. “This wasn’t just our football team. This win belongs to the community and everyone who showed up in the stands at 3 o’clock today to support us. I looked up the population of Mountain Brook today. It’s 20,821. I believe that every one of them was here tonight.”
Yeager also announced that he would extend the usual 24-hour celebration rule to 72 hours for his players to celebrate the win. For the fans, the celebration will last much longer, remembered as a defining moment for the community.
Now, the 9-0 Spartans have home-field advantage in the playoffs. The state championship game, which will be held in Tuscaloosa in Bryant-Denny stadium, is on everyone’s mind.
“We are set on a state championship,” Gillen said.
“We still aren’t satisfied and won’t be satisfied until we win the state championship and got a ring on our fingers,” Isbell said.
You know that conventional wisdom I was talking about? Sure, it takes talent, size and factual information into account. But it forgets about determination, passion and the desire to win. That Friday night in Spartan Stadium, Mountain Brook proved that we are a unified community that has each other’s backs. But we already knew that. Mountain Brook 17, Hoover 9 just showed everyone else.