Eagles hang on to top Hoover, advance to quarterfinals

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – Tuesday, May 2, marked the third time Hoover and Oak Mountain had faced off on the pitch this season, but a little more was on the line when the Bucs traveled to the valley of Oak Mountain High School to take on the Eagles in a first-round playoff match.

Coming into the game, No. 8 Hoover had lost five of its last nine games, while No. 1 Oak Mountain had gone 6-1-1 in its last seven showing that these two teams were in two different places. Somehow, that doesn’t matter when this two square off in a game of any magnitude, but much less a game with both teams season on the line.

In the first two games, neither team created much headway in two hard fought battles that saw the Eagles win 1-0 on Feb. 17, and the two fight to a 0-0 tie April 4. This time around that was no different as the game ended with a one-goal separation as Oak Mountain jumped out to a 2-0 lead, and despite a strong second-half surge from Hoover, the Eagles were able to hang on to win by a final score of 2-1 advancing them to the quarterfinals of the playoffs.

Oak Mountain came out with a lot of offensive pressure early in the first half and controlled the ball over the first 20 minutes of the game. Despite two crosses into the goalie box that found the foot of an Eagle player, however, they weren’t able to find the back of the net.

That changed 24 minutes into the game when the Eagles got a corner kick that found its way to Kennedy Davis, who wasn’t able to score, but thanks to hard contact in the box, he was awarded a penalty kick, which for this kid is almost an automatic goal. He stepped up to the penalty mark with the clock stopped at 15:36 and despite the goalkeeper choosing the right way, Davis was able to slide the ball smoothly across the dewy-dusk grass into the extreme far left side of the net to give his team a 1-0 advantage.

The next 13 minutes were somewhat quiet with wavering chances from each side, but with 1:58 left in the first half, Caleb Van Geffen, a recent track and cross country signee with Vanderbilt University, showed off his wheels by beating defenders up the left side before eventually fooling the keeper and firing the ball into the net to extend Oak Mountain’s lead to 2-0 heading into the break.

The first seven-and-a-half minutes of the second half were extremely quiet with a couple of mediocre chances by each team. Finally, for the first time in the game, the Bucs started turning up the pressure and outplaying a defensive Eagle squad.

After just missing on a cross into the box with 32:30 left in the half, Hoover regained some momentum and exactly four minutes later got back down the field to draw a penalty.

The penalty set up a PK two yards outside the 18 from David Turner who bent the ball over a wall of Oak Mountain defenders and put it just high enough to also bend a few inches over the outstretched reach of the Eagles’ goalkeeper Matthew Hazelwood to make the score 2-1.

This lead to both teams heating back up and getting several chances over the next few minutes. With 23:20 left, Hoover just missed a cross into the goalie box that took a great save from Hazelwood to keep Oak Mountain in front. Just two minutes later the Bucs got another PK, this one about 10 yards further back from the last one, but Turner missed wide left.

Oak Mountain realized they were playing somewhat defensive and switched into a new gear the remainder of the game. They became much more physical defensively and much more aggressive offensively. While they didn’t score another goal, the tempo and physicality at which they were playing with visibly wore Hoover down, who made some crucial turnovers late in the game.

While you could sense the pressure of a one-goal game with the season on the line from both the packed out crowd in the stands and the players on the field, the Eagles were able to hang on over the final minutes to win 2-1.

They now move on to the quarterfinals where they will face Grissom on Saturday, May 6 at 5 p.m. Should they win, Oak Mountain will find themselves in the Final 4 in Huntsville the week after.