With Herbert Hoover coming off an undefeated regular season in 2021, which the Huskies had not done since 1977, there was a level of expectation surrounding the program entering 2022.
There was also an extra layer of motivation considering how that 2021 season ended — at the hands of No. 16 seed and eventual state champion Fairmont Senior, who claimed an opening-round playoff win last November against Hoover, 30-28.
With valuable playmakers like quarterback Dane Hatfield and all-stater Isaiah Chapman returning, there was no shortage of hype around Hoover.
However, the Huskies had an early wake-up call when they began this season with losses to both Scott and Winfield, both of which went on to earn top 4 seeds in the Class AA playoffs.
Yet instead of letting the early-season struggles bring Hoover down, all the Huskies did was respond with seven straight victories, while outscoring opponents 355-117 in the process.
“The first thing that comes to mind is health,” said Huskies’ head coach Joey Fields. “We got healthy, and we got everybody that we thought we would have. We started having them every day in practice, which brought them consistency. We got better each week because of that.”
While injuries lingered earlier this season, Field is encouraged with his team’s direction ahead of Thursday’s first-round playoff matchup at No. 8 Clay County.
“Our last game against Logan was the first game we had everyone dressed and ready to play since play number two against Scott,” Fields said. “We have had great leadership. It has been a hard way to go with all the injuries and sickness, but we fought through it. That is what good teams do, and they find a way. We are starting to find our way into the second season, which is exciting now.”
Hatfield has done a fine job guiding the offense and he’s among the many guys Fields has been impressed with throughout the season.
“He has been huge and he is getting healthier,” Fields noted. “He had a few good runs against Logan last week. It was almost like, ‘Woah, where has that been?’ He has gotten healthier as the weeks have passed because we can win and get him out of there. He is doing well on the other side defensively.”
Herbert Hoover (7-2) is back in the playoffs for the third consecutive season, the first time the Huskies have accomplished that since 1994-1996.
Now comes a matchup with Clay County (8-1). The Panthers are averaging 30 points and will play with a surplus of excitement in what marks the first home playoff game in the program’s 100-year history.
There will also be an abundance of emotion as Panthers’ defensive lineman Jake “Salty” Morton was recently seriously involved in an automobile accident and faces a long and tough recovery ahead.
“First off, our thoughts and prayers go out to them with what they are going through right now because it is heartbreaking,” Fields noted. “They have tough kids and they always have those kinds of kids. Our communities have a lot in common, with good, tough kids playing hard. Our school and community are excited about playing them.”
Fields believes a few aspects will make the difference Thursday.
“We have to take care of the football and win the turnover battle,” Fields stated. “Every game we have won the turnover battle we have won the game. When we did not, we lost. We must be able to check off all the boxes with effort and toughness. It is hard to win, especially this time of the year.”
Hoover’s inexperience was on display early after 15 departed graduated of last year’s team. However, the Huskies have settled in and benefited from the growth of inexperienced players as the season’s progressed.
“Our biggest thing with our kids is that we lost eight starters on defense and seven on offense,” Fields stated. “We had a young team in the category of experience. The more practice and games they had then, the better we would be. I am proud of this group. It has not been easy.”