Chris Yeager's Mountain Brook Spartans' football team pulled off a miraculous 51-50 double overtime victory over No. 6 Spain Park at Spartan Stadium in a wild, Class 7A, Region 3 epic last Friday Night.
After super senior running back Harold Joiner completed a 6 yard TD pass to junior Hamp Greene to cut the margin to 50-49 in the second OT, Yeager threw caution to the wind and went for the 2 point conversion to win it. Senior quarterback Hamp Sisson connected with senior wide receiver Wilson Higgins in the corner of the end zone with Higgins just getting a foot inbounds to cement the classic victory for the Spartans, who moved to 3-2 overall and 1-2 in Region 3.
Mountain Brook came off two grueling games against Hoover and Thompson the two weeks before, in which they gave Hoover everything they wanted before falling to the No.2 Bucs, 31-21. Central Phenix City is the No.1 team in the state in 7A, but that could change down the road as Hoover is playing like Hoover. The team was beaten up both physically and mentally after the Hoover game as it traveled to No.3 Thompson the next week and fell victim to junior phenom quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, younger brother of Tide superstar QB Tua, and the Thompson Warriors, 40-13. But the Spartans rebounded in a huge way and came out with a massively important region victory in what could be a momentum builder for the team as it heads into its off week this week before traveling to Tuscaloosa County next Friday Night, Oct. 6th. The Spartans will then host Vestavia on Friday, October 13th. After those 2 regional wars, the Spartans will host region opponent Oak Mountain for homecoming Friday, Oct. 20th, then play at region foe Huffman Friday, Oct. 27th, and finish the season off on a Thursday Night at Class 6A defending state champion Ramsay.
Sisson completed 16 of 20 passes for 243 yards and ran for another 73,. Joiner, a 94, 4 star by 247 sports, who has been offered by Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Clemson and a host of other schools, ran for 85 yards on 16 carries and 3 TDs, of 37, 1 and 10 yards and also threw the TD pass in the second overtime to Greene. Greene, a junior whose dad, Hamp, was a kicker at Alabama in the early 90's, caught 10 passes for 141 yards and a TD. Junior A.J. Gates ran for 40 yards on 12 carries. Gates and Joiner make up the best running back tandem in the state. Higgins caught 3 passes for 45 yards, a TD and the game winning 2 point conversion. It was a collective team effort in this memorable victory for the Spartans and one that could catapult the team as it heads into the off week and the second half of the schedule.
I had a chance to speak with Coach Yeager after the victory and here's what he had to say. Yeager, in his 12th season as head coach at Mountain Brook, is 87-46, and almost always has his teams playing in the postseason. He does a remarkable job with an always super group of kids who are very good athletes and want to excel.
***Note*** Spain Park was No.6 in the state going into the game last week, not No.5 as I stated in my email. Apologize for the error.
DW: How would you describe that football game last Friday Night?
CY: I tell you the most remarkable thing about that game is the 3 game stretch we had with Hoover, Thompson and Spain Park. Hoover was such a demanding game, it was such a physical game, and our kids played extremely well in that game. But we really took a physical beating. We lost 2 linebackers in that game, so we limped into the Thompson game and we were just rung out. So I wondered if we could recover from the Thompson game because it was a situation where your program is spiraling and we wanted to stop that nosedive. We backed off and just let'em mend a little bit. The region's tough, but the way those games come, the order that they come in, is a factor. Those 3 teams were ranked 2, 3 and 6 in that stretch. So to answer your question, I was really just marveled in our kids' ability to bounce back and give that kind of effort in that game. It says a whole lot about them. Gosh, it says a whole lot about who they are in their training, their upbringing, everything about'em.
DW: Were you guys just worn out going into Thompson?
CY: After the Hoover game, on Sunday we came in to lift and watch film and the training room was just full of kids. We lost 2 linebackers that didn't get to play in that game (the Thompson game). So we got together (the coaches) and said 'all right who are our best players.' So what we did is we got in a package where we inserted another defensive back, so we were down a linebacker, and we didn't have the numbers in the box. We wanted to see if those guys could stop the run and we couldn't. We just didn't have the numbers. That and we were hobbling a little bit. I'm going to tell you, Thompson is a good football team. They're a very, very good football team. Their quarterback (Tagovailoa) is as good as everybody says. I told the kids that I know we're better than this. And I do not make excuses for them, but our defensive coordinator Oscar Glasscock made a very keen observation. He wondered what people's record is after they play Hoover. Man that's an incredible question. Everybody asks who can beat Hoover. But the question we have is does Hoover beat you twice (Meaning after playing Hoover are you so physically and mentally spent that the next week it's even tougher to win). Can you rebound from it. We're the smallest school in our region and we get spread thin sometimes in our personnel. But our kids give you everything you want and that is all we can ask for.
DW: Hamp was fantastic against Spain Park. Talk about his performance.
CY: The Thompson game was really a catalyst for some of the things we did. We were sort of working on these things and Jim King, our passing game coordinator, said after 4 games these are the things Hamp does well. So we just put'em out on the table and said let's get really good at these things and structure the offensive game plan around that. So that's what we did. We used his legs and his arms at the same time. Making decisions, and running the football that's what he can do very well. He has a lot of yards rushing and close to 250 passing. He does better if he can run the ball. He used all of his gifts in that game and I owe a lot of that to him because he has those gifts. But the other thing is, Jim King did an incredible job of just narrowing it down to what plays work for Hamp. We didn't waste any plays. We wanted every play to count. We've got to do what he does best.
DW: Hamp seems to be a really clutch player for you.
CY: Since he's been a starter for us, once as a sophomore, twice as a junior, and now this year, he wins the game at the very end. When it gets in a clutch situation where a guy is either going to choke or perform, that is when Hamp is at his finest. I tell you thing that Hamp does, I can't put a finger on this, but he just has a calming effect on the people around him. He doesn't panic. At the very end, we have a minute and 27 seconds left in regulation (down 33-28) and he says we're going to go down and score. I wasn't surprised by that. I expected that. And that comes from him.
DW: What are Hamp's college prospects?
CY: Well the academies have all offered, Army, Navy, and Air Force. He's got an offer from Jacksonville State, he's got an offer the Citadel. Wofford has offered. Furman is on the brink of offering him.
DW: He's so bright too, he could go to an elite academic school. What about the Ivies. Do they give some scholarship money?
CY: You get spots in the Ivy League schools. They only have so many spots. But that would be perfect for him. The thing right now is everybody is looking for a dual threat quarterback. Everybody is looking for that. It's like having 12 people on offense. When you have an empty backfield (no running back on the field) you still got a running back, back there. That's where everybody is heading right now. People want to use all the tools a quarterback offers. Gosh, there are a lot of places he could play.
DW: You were talking about the spots in the Ivy League schools, could he get scholarship money for that?
CY: Yes. The kids we have had that have gone on to the Ivy Leagues they do have scholarship money. They don't actually give athletic scholarships, but the athletes do get some scholarship money. But it's not per say athletic scholarships.
DW: Back to the game, Harold, A.J. Gates, Wilson Higgins and Hamp Greene, those guys were pretty clutch too.
CY: The formula for winning those kinds of games is you can't turn the ball over and you've gotta have, everybody says, somewhere between 3 and 4 explosive plays. And every one of those guys had 1 explosive play, at least 1. Definitely a team effort. We say that Hamp (Sisson) played his finest game, but there were a lot of people that came together and played individually their finest game and collectively for sure.
DW: How did your offensive line perform?
CY: Very, very well. Our offensive line has had a pretty good year even against this competition. This is one of the better offensive line groups that we've had. This is one of the savviest groups we've had. They're all smart. The football part comes naturally to them. I like them because understanding the game does come natural to them. They're great at getting hat on hat, extending blocks. I do think we need to get better sometimes on protecting Hamp in the passing game. That's sort of been our Achilles Heel, but it has improved.
DW: Who's your leader up front and what kind of size do you have?
CY: We got Anderson Tomlin (a senior), our left tackle. He's 6'5", 275. He's got offers from UNA (North Alabama) and Central Arkansas, and a lot of people are talking to him. I think Richmond's going to offer him before it's all said and done. The ones he does have offers from are in hand. He's only been on the offensive line for a year, so he's got a lot of upside. We've got Will Carothers, who is a 2 year starter (senior) and he's sort of the anchor of that group. And Sean Doud (senior center) is one of the most productive players we have. He played 12 snaps on defense last Friday night. He played 90 snaps the other night. He had full body cramps after the game and we had to call an ambulance for him. He gave us everything he had.
DW: What position does Carothers play?
CY: Carothers is our left guard. He plays on the left side with Anderson. And we have Michael Mancuso (junior), who's our right guard, then ( senior) Zach Morris, who is our right tackle, and (senior) Clay Stearns who's our H Back, and he's a really good player too.
DW: Do you feel OK about your size up front?
CY: Yes, this is one of the larger groups we've had.
DW: How did your defense perform? I know it was a high scoring game, but did they improve from where they've been?
CY: Well, this is the thing to me about our defense. At halftime it was 14-7, their favor. We had a blown coverage that allowed them to score a touchdown. Anyway, it was 14-7. We had 6 stops in the game, and that's sort of what everybody now is thinking about. It goes in cycles. I've seen times where the offense is ahead of the defense and the defense will catch up and the defense will have its low scoring games. In 35 years of coaching I've seen it go back and forth, and back and forth, and I don't think that's a different phenomenon. It's always been that way on both sides of the ball with schemes and what people are trying to do skill-wise. But this is the thing that I got out of the game. Number 1, it was 90 degrees. I think at game time it was 82 with a heat index. We had a late start, a 7:45 start (due to a Jewish holiday that delayed the start of the game, which usually starts at 7 PM). Anyway, all that being said, we scored 29 points in the second half and they scored 22. I really thought our defense really did improve. I just think right now the offenses are ahead of the defenses, that's just the cycle of football we're in. Fans seem to like that. People said that was the most enjoyable game at Mountain Brook they've ever seen, and I said, well, the most enjoyable game was the year that we beat Vestavia 7 to nothing and stopped them 4th and goal on the 1 yard line.
DW: How big of a momentum builder was this for your football team?
CY: It was the way the game ended. We had the momentum. Then they come down and kick a field goal (to tie it 36-36 at the end of regulation). In overtime we go on offense and score a touchdown. They go on offense and score a touchdown. Then they score a touchdown in the second overtime and we won it (with a touchdown and a 2 point conversion). I think the percentage of that is 37 percent (converting a 2 point conversion). With us winning on a 2 point conversion, the way that we did, after being down, the kids just continued to fight. You don't come back when you're playing Hoover, you don't come back when you're playing Thompson. Then you reverse that. So it communicates to the players, this thing is a journey and you've just gotta keep fighting every single play. Now coming together as a team, the possibilities are there and there are some things we can now accomplish.
DW: Doesn't sound like there was any hesitation going for 2 on the final play was there.
CY: I told the coaches when we got to the overtime, I told our captains we wanted to play defense first, and if we didn't play defense first, I wanted us to play to the end zone by our student section. So when I got together with my coaches, I told them (in the first OT) if we go on defense first and offense 2nd, we'll go for 2. The reason that was is that both defenses were just worn out with the 7:45 start and the weather. Our kids were just gone. We were totally out of defensive assets. So that was the plan in the first overtime. If we were on offense second we were going to go for 2. I felt like they had a little more depth than we had on defense, not a whole lot more, but a little more. So when that thing went into the second overtime, I knew we were going for 2. I told my coaches after the game that I learned a lot from the triple overtime game we played against Oxford (in the 2011 quarterfinals of the then 6A playoffs), it was similar to Oxford. At Oxford, I said we would go for 2 in the second overtime, but my defensive coordinator said we could stop'em. I thought OK we'd do that. It ended up we didn't go for 2 and lost in triple overtime. I learned something. It's really not about the schemes or the coaching ability. It's about who has the best talent on offense. It's what shape is your defense in. We had a lot of injuries on defense. Did we have anything left in the tank? Are we healthy? I learned a lot from that Oxford game.
***Note***In high school overtimes, teams start on the 10 yard line and have 4 downs to score a TD or kick a field goal. If the team that has the ball first kicks a field goal and the second team to possess the ball scores a TD, the second team wins. if the second team also kicks a field goal it goes to a second OT. If the second team doesn't score at all, the first team wins. If the teams are tied in the first OT, the team that had the ball second in the first OT gets the ball first in the second OT. The Spartans had the ball first in the first OT, and Spain Park had the ball first in the second OT, thus with the Spartans going second in the second OT and getting a six, they went for 2 and won the game because the Jaguars just kicked the extra point after their TD.
In college, teams start on the 25 and can get 2 first downs to the 15 and the 5, but have four downs to do it. If the offense kicks a field goal, the opposing offense can win it with a touchdown or tie it with a field goal and send it to a second overtime, where like high school, the team that was second on offense in the first OT, gets the ball first in the second OT. If it goes to a 3rd OT, both teams have to go for 2 if they score a touchdown.
DW: I saw where Wilson Higgins, who caught the 2 point conversion that won it, said he was just making sure he had a foot in. That was good footwork by him.
CY: When I was watching the film it was just bam-bam, it was so close. It seemed like it took'em 10 years to raise their hands. He had one step in and control of the ball. If it was an NFL or college game they would have been looking at that forever. But I've got a picture of it, and he had a foot in. If that happened a second later he wouldn't have gotten a foot in.
DW: Coach I know you talk about championship teams during the season sometimes. Do you think this team has the ability to make a deep run this year?
CY: I can remember so many times at Mountain Brook people saying about us, that's not the same Mountain Brook team you played in week 1 or week 2 and that's typical Mountain Brook to me. It's all about improving week to week. I always tell them there's a darkhorse team out there, and we didn't get any votes in the poll when this thing started. But there's a team out there that nobody knows about and they don't know about the players they've got that have been working since they were sophomores. They don't know their hearts. And that usually describe us, when we make up our minds up that that's what we want to be. We want to be that team that people will look at us and see us as a team that people didn't see in week 1 or week 5. That's who we want to be.