Hoover 38 - Lake 35
LAKE TWP. A battle royale seen by thousands who rode out hundreds of yards and dozens of points arrived at the last sliver of ground.
With a minute left, it was fourth-and-goal with the football sniffing the goal stripe. Hoover quarterback Connor Ashby grabbed the snap and plunged into the unknown.
It was impossible to tell in the first split second which way the pile would lean. To the south ever so slightly, and Lake keeps a 35-31 lead. To the north by any measure, and Hoover wins.
Ashby bear hugged the ball across the line for a 38-35 victory.
“We were in the exact same situation last year against Akron East,” Ashby said. “We didn’t score, and we lost. We were telling each other we didn’t want that to happen again.
“It was crazy. I know for a fact I got stopped short, but Chase Columber came out of nowhere and just pushed me in.”
It was a hefty push (Columber is a 290-pound right tackle) and a monster win. The Federal League rivals teams emerged with 4-3 records and solid Division II playoff hopes.
“Your season’s on the line and it comes down to one play,” Hoover head coach Brian Baum said. “Both teams were feeling that.”
The game drew a large, robust gathering that conveyed a sense that two neighbors with good teams should ignore multiple league losses and enjoy the stretch run.
“I was proud of how our guys came out in the second half and fought,” Blue Streaks head coach Dan DeGeorge said. “We lost two of our best players in the first half. We could sulk and pout or come out and play angry and fight our butts off, and our guys did.”
Dreden Owens, who entered the game second in Federal League with 934 rushing yards, missed the second half with an ankle injury.
Hoover came out trying to establish the run behind a line of left tackle Colby Shirey (5-11, 270, Sr.), left guard Austin Beall (6-2, 260, Sr.), center Alec Lehman (6-1, 220, So.), right guard Benjamin Wyatt (6-2, 290, Sr.) and right tackle Columber (6-1, 290, Sr.).
Left guard David Rhodes was carted off the field with an injury, forcing the Blue Streaks to shuffle their line two series into the game.
Hoover found a rhythm.
A couple of Ashby runs, a screen pass to Griguolo and a quick out that turned into a chunk gain to the 1 set up another Griguolo touchdown. It was 14-0.
Lake quarterback Jacob Ecels got hot en route to 306 passing yards and three TDs.
A 20-yard catch and run by Carson Miller got Lake rolling. On fourth down from the 19, senior Aaron Phillips got open on the left sideline. Eckels hit him at the 5. Phillips spun and ran and dove and scored.
Down 14-7, Lake needed a big stop, but on third-and-9 from midfield, Ashby delivered a deep strike over the middle to Johnson. Suddenly, the Vikings were on the Lake 16.
The Vikings got a 29-yard field goal from Yanni Volas with a minute left in the half to make it 17-7.
An interception by Hoover’s Zach Yun figured to end the half inconsequentially, but it became a big moment when an illegal blind-side block left Owens on the turf with 11 seconds left. Owens was helped off the field unable to use his right leg. He watched the second half on crutches with an ankle injury.
Zach Evans recovered a Hoover fumble in the opening moments of the second half, putting Lake back in business. Senior Vinny Garro quickly delivered an 11-yard run and wound up capping a 40-yard march with a 3-yard TD blast. It was a 17-14 game, and then the Blue Streaks had the ball back after a Nicholas Mariocchi sack.
Moments later, they were in the end zone. Eckels faked a handoff to Garro, and Carson Miller popped open over the middle. Miller was behind the secondary when he caught the ball and sped away from it on a 63-yard play that provided a 21-17 lead.
Hoover soon countered with a 36-yard Ashby pass to 6-foot-5 senior Trent Graham for a touchdown that put the Vikings back on top, 24-21.
The shootout was on. Eckels drove Lake 65 yards in 11 plays, throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass with 3.2 seconds left in the third quarter. It was 28-24, Lake.
Hoover, averaging more than 40 points a game, drove 82 yards and got another short TD run by Griguolo. Hoover led 31-28 with 9:31 left.
An 80-yard drive and a 5-yard Garro touchdown gave Lake a 35-31 lead with 5:16 left.
Ashby soon went deep to Graham for a 34-yard gain. Behind Griguolo’s running, Hoover advanced to the 10 with two minutes left.
It led to that final pile, which with a push from a 290-pound tackle, moved Hoover’s way.