Hoover protects home field in 24-13 win

Hoover, Ala. -- It shouldn’t be a surprise that Hoover wins another big game. After all, they have been one of the top high school football programs in the nation over the last decade. The Bucs have played in 10 of the past 11 state championship games in Alabama. But they did shock some in beating Mississippi powerhouse South Panola 24-13 in front of their home crowd.

Hoover, known for their offensive fireworks, won this contest with their defense. Holding a 3-0 lead late in the second quarter, the Buc defense stymied South Panola on a fourth and goal on their own three. They stuffed Antonio Conner for no gain. Behind quarterback Sam Gillikin, Hoover proceeded to drive the ball the length of the field with less than two minutes. Gillikin threw a touchdown pass with 16.8 seconds left in the half to put the Bucs up 10-0. More importantly, it gave Hoover a big dose of confidence going into the second half.

South Panola had their chances in the third quarter but couldn’t convert. Super junior safety Conner scored the Tigers first touchdown on a 75-yard punt return. Hoover responded with the legs and arm of Gillikin. He connected with Josh Jackson for one Buc score and threw for another to put Hoover up 24-6. Conner scored South Panola’s second touchdown on a five-yard run late in the game.

Credit the Hoover defense, as they held the South Panola offense in check for just about the entire game. The Buc defense played very well against the run and didn’t allow much, if anything, through the air.

What it means for next week's first POWERADE FAB 50 for the regular season: This was a very impressive win for Hoover Josh Niblett and his Buccaneer team. They are currently ranked No. 41 in the POWERADE FAB 50 preseason poll and beating a team like South Panola should give Hoover a boost. They don’t have any more big games with out-of-state opponents but you can bet they will face tough battles ahead in Alabama. Meanwhile, the Tigers held the No. 13 ranking coming into this contest. It wasn’t an impressive performance offensively for the Tigers but they have time to correct their mistakes and work their way up the rankings once again, as they begin play in the Magnolia State.

Rising Star of the Night: South Panola junior safety Antonio Connor is a star in the making and is looking like one of the top recruits in the nation for the Class of 2013. Connor was Superman for the Tigers against Hoover and was the best player on the field. He is a hard hitting safety that made his presence felt in the South Panola secondary with a few bone-jarring hits in the first half. As the game progressed, his team needed him to make play on offense and on special teams. He returned a long punt for a score in the third quarter and was also their primary offensive weapon all game long, especially when he to the perimeter where he could utilize his great speed.

More Stars: This will be the likely last football season for Hoover quarterback Sam Gillikin. He has accepted a baseball scholarship at Auburn and that’s where he says his future lies. Meanwhile, he has this final fall on the gridiron to make a name for himself. If his performance against a tough South Panola defense is any indication then Hoover will be just fine in 2011. He’s steady, makes good decisions and can make plays with his arm and legs. Gillikin looks like a good leader for the Buc offense. Sophomore cornerback Marlon Humphrey, the son of former Alabama running back Bobby Humphrey, looks like a star of the future. He had one interception against South Panola, although the Tigers really didn’t test the Buc secondary very often because they tried to pound the football. For South Panola, defensive end Temario Strong had a good game for the Tigers, as did linebacker Je’Tavious Turner. In fact, Turner had several big plays and hits for the South Panola defense.

Hoover head coach Josh Niblett: “That was a big win for us. We had to overcome some turnovers and South Panola had something to do with that. We have been pumped about this game and I prayed to God all week. We showed up and showed out. We played hard and we played physical. I am proud of our offense and I am proud of our defense. We answered the bell.”

South Panola head coach Lance Pogue: “I don’t want to take anything away from Hoover. They played very well and we didn’t capitalize on chances we had. But I was pleased with our effort. Our kids played hard and we will be back. We are fighters. This will be a good team when we get back to Mississippi. This loss will make us a better team in the end.”

Up Next: Hoover (1-0) plays at Hoover Spain Park next Friday. South Panola (1-1) plays at Memphis University School on Friday.

Jamie Newberg is the southeast regional coordinator for ESPN.com