August 28, 2010

No. 8 Hoover survives grind against Byrnes

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When it was all said and done, Hoover (Ala.) High athletic director Myra Miles may have summed it all up best.

It was a grind.

The six-hour bus ride. The scorching on-field temperatures that soared past 100 degrees. The national spotlight. The stifling Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes defense.

But Hoover - ranked No. 8 in the RivalsHigh 100 - found a way to survive and win, 14-0.

Even if it was ugly.

"They worked through it," Miles said via phone shortly after the game's conclusion. "We're all so proud of them."

And by "all," Miles meant the large group of parents, students and fans who filled multiple buses and made the trip to Rock Hill, S.C. for the game.

"We had three fan buses, the band had two buses and the cheerleaders had their own bus," she said. "We wanted a pretty big crowd and we got one."

The team also had three buses of its own - but they were charter buses and made the trip on Thursday afternoon in preparation for Saturday's nearly annual trek into the national spotlight.

But while the six-hour ride may have been a grind, it was nothing like the grind that the Buccaneers would face on the field from a staunch Byrnes defense.

At the end of the first half, Hoover clung to a 7-0 lead, on a 20-yard touchdown run by Caleb Sims, who took the direct snap and went straight up the middle for the score.

Other than that one play, however, the Hoover offense was virtually non-existent.

Miles, who was sitting in the bleachers with the parents and fans, said that despite the small lead and the lack of offensive firepower, there was no sense of panic.

"Everyone knows that there's a plan in place," she said. "There wasn't any panic. They were confident that the kids would continue to play hard."

As it turned out, that single touchdown would be all Hoover would need.

No. 46 Byrnes, meanwhile, looked lethargic offensively the entire game, as quarterback Zach Blair - in his first varsity start - never found his rhythm. The team only mustered a little more than 100 yards of total offense - most of which came from the legs of Shakeem Wharton, who had more than 100 yards on the ground himself.

And while the defenses continued to force punting situations, Hoover managed to put one three-play drive together at the end of the third quarter, capped by a 45-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Carter to Jaylon Denson to get the Bucs on the scoreboard one more time.

While that play may have been the game's biggest offensive burst, it was a block late in the game that had the crowd buzzing.

Late in the fourth quarter, with Byrnes in do-or-die mode, Blair tried to make something happen with his legs and scrambled around the right side.

He picked up a block from Cendricus Woodruff - a block that Hoover defensive back Connor Coskery never saw coming. It was a violent collision that left Coskery sans helmet, lying on the field for several minutes. Medical crews brought a stretcher out to his aid, but Coskery managed to sit up and walk off the field under his own power.

"He didn't see it coming," Miles said of the block from her vantage point. "We just hope and pray that he's OK."

Miles did say that Coskery spoke to her after the game and that the team's medical staff was with him. His status and diagnosis are still unknown.

So, while Miles said the team was pleased with the win, there was definitely a sense of relief that the weekend was nearly over.

It was, indeed, a grind.

"(The team) was so excited but exhausted," Miles said. "But they played great.

"It was well worth it."

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