MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AHSAA) — Junior place-kicker Constantine Hontzas kicked a 30-yard field goal on the last play of the game Friday night to give Hoover a 17-14 win over defending Class 7A state champion Central-Phenix City Friday night at Cramton Bowl.
Hontzas’ kick came just before the stroke of midnight in Montgomery – and 1 a.m. in Phenix City (on Eastern time) and capped a dramatic second-half comeback by Coach Josh Niblett’s Bucs (1-0) to bring the AHSAA 2019 Kickoff Classic to a dramatic finish.
The game, which pitted two teams ranked in the nation’s Top 25 prep teams according to The Sporting News rankings, was by almost two hours with the kickoff finally coming at 9:07 p.m.
The wait was worth it. The battle of the state’s two best high school teams proved to be a contest of equals from start to finish.
Central, which came in riding a 14-game winning streak, got the first break recovering a Hoover fumble inside the Red Devils 15-yard line.
Moments later, Joseph McKay streaked down the left sideline 62 yards to move deep inside Hoover territory. Six plays later, senior quarterback Tucker Melton connected with wideout Peter Jakes for a 7-yard TD pass and Daniel Barbosa’s extra-point kick gave Coach Jamey DuBose’s defending state champion Red Devils a 7-0 lead.
Central tacked on another TD in the second quarter with a 15-play, 77-yard march used 6:27 of the period and culminated in a 13-yard TD pass from Melton to Eddie Williams with 6:53 left in the half.
The Bucs’ Markus Clark forced a fumble midway through the third period and returned it to the Red Devils 19. Four plays later, freshman receiver R.J. Hamilton took an end-around hand off and connected with senior quarterback Robby Ashford for an 8-yard touchdown pass. Hontzas kicked the PAT and Hoover trailed 14-7 with 5:35 to play in the quarter.
Hamilton came up with his second big pay of the night just over a minute later when he hauled in a punt at his own 29 and sped 50 yards to the Central 21. Ashford’s 17-yrd pass to Cooper Tullo three plays later and Hontzas’ extra point tied the game 14-14.
The Hoover defense came up with the biggest stop of the night with 4:22 to play when Josh Smith recovered a Central fumble at the Bucs’ 3-yard line. Ashford and the Hoover offense then marched 90 yards in 12 plays to set up Hontzas’ winning kick. The ball was put in play after two straight Central time outs with three seconds left on the clock.
His kick sailed through as time expired.
Ashford finished the night 9-of-21 passing for 140 yards and a TD and also rushed for 37 yards on six carries. He had the one TD pass reception as well. Dylan Pauley led Hoover with 45 yards rushing on 14 carries and Tullo had four catches for 60 yards.
Smith had 12 tackles and his key fumble recovery to pace the defense. Matthew Palmer and Kory Chapman also had nine tackles each.
Melton was 10-of-21 passing for 92 yards for DuBose’s Red Devils (0-1). McKay also had 177 yards rushing on 27 carries, and Eddie Williams caught six passes for 57 yards. Linebacker Jadon Richardson led Central’s defense with 13 tackles.