Those were the words of Pell City head coach David Shores Friday night at Regions Park. Shores’ Panthers battled the vaunted Buccaneers all night Friday, but were unable to slow them down defensively, ultimately falling 49-26 in the second round of the AHSAA playoffs.
“Hats off to Hoover,” Shores said. “They know how to win, and we’re still learning how to do that.”
Shores’ team earned its own accolades Friday, however, exiting the field to a standing ovation from the Panther fans who made the trip to Hoover.
“These seniors are going out winners,” Shores said. “We made a lot of strides; a lot of people didn’t expect us to even be here this year.”
When it came down to it Friday, however, the Panthers (7-5) simply could not stop the Bucs (12-0), surrendering 414 yards of offense. Hoover scored every time it touched the ball Friday, except for its final possession.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Hoover head coach Josh Niblett said. “We really challenged our offensive line this week to be more physical. I’m most proud of the fact that we were able to dominate the line of scrimmage and move the ball by running and getting first downs.”
Hoover took an early lead on a pass from quarterback Connor Short to Alex Elam, taking a 7-0 lead following a Pell City fumble.
A Buc mistake put Pell City back in the game, however — the Panthers recovered a Hoover fumble on a punt, and took over at the Bucs’ 34-yard line. Three plays later, Martin found senior Alex Ennis in the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown, tying the game at 7.
Hoover’s Calen Campbell scored from 6 yards out on the next possession, and a Martin interception turned into a short field that led to a touchdown pass from Short to Hagan Scott. The Panthers trailed 21-7.
Martin rallied quickly, however, and the Panthers trekked back down the field. Martin found tight end Casey Bishop for the first of two touchdown passes, this one from 18- yards away. Hoover led 21-13.
“Austin is a winner,” Shores said. “He’s been the thing all year that’s made us go.
“We moved the ball all night, but we weren’t able to get a stop.”
The Bucs closed the half with another touchdown, as junior Kyler Jackson found the end zone from 4- yards away with 52 seconds left in the first half.
Hoover reeled off three straight touchdowns to open the second half that put the game away. Campbell scored from 45- yards; Short found Cooper Carden from 37- yards out; and Kris Parker scored to make it 49-13 as the third quarter ended.
“We know every week we get everybody’s best shot,” Niblett said. “We talk all the time about making sure we don’t take things for granted.”
Pell City tacked on two touchdowns in the fourth. First, Martin found Bishop again, this time from 28- yards away. After a Hoover fumble on the kickoff, Martin finished things himself with a 4-yard run to provide the final margin.
Shores commended his squad for their effort, and for reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
“Our effort was good the whole game,” he said. “It’s been good all year. “We’re learning how to beat some teams that maybe we’re not supposed to beat. We’re getting there. It’s a process.”
Contact Will Heath at firstname.lastname@example.org.