CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – “It does feel really strange, it does. Kind of like a movie scenario.”
The Herbert Hoover Huskies are living out a true Cinderella story.
“Emotions are really high for me,” said head coach Joey Fields. “Just cause this is the seniors in this group’s last practice today at the Joe, and this is their last game… and you know it is.”
Tuesday night was the last time Hoover practiced at Joe Eddie Cowley Field.
The 2016 flood wiped out the high school, and much of the Elk River community; but the team would still practice at ‘The Joe.’
“Ever since the flood, it’s like… everyone could come together at once.. football was about the only thing that was normal that year,” said senior offensive lineman Connor Brinkman. “Even though not everyone could come, it was still something the community could look forward to.”
Now, a new school is being built, and the Huskies will start playing on that field next fall.
So tonight was the last time on the grass, and what a way to end an era.
Practicing for a state championship game for the first time in program history.
“This group of guys has been together since we were like 5,6,” said Brinkman. “All the way up… PeeWee ball, Middle School…”
“I mean I’ve been doing this with these guys since midget league, 5 and 6 years old,” said senior linebacker/DB Andrew Rollyson. “So to be in a state championship for our last game ever, it’s pretty cool.”
But, it didn’t come easy.
Hoover started this season 0-2, and riddled with injuries.
“Our kids just continued to fight, continued to respond,” said Coach Fields. “We felt like we had a good football team, if we had everyone. We started gettin’ healthier. With health, the ball bounced our way, a little bit of luck. We started building confidence and we just took off.”
The Huskies posted ten wins in a row, with those final three wins coming in the state playoffs, against strong programs – Clay County, Winfield, and Frankfort.
In that first playoff game, against Clay County, they won 63-26.
“That first playoff win, gettin that under our belt,” said Fields. “We knew we had a hard opponent second, and they were only gonna get harder. Definitely wasn’t gonna get easier.”
Sophomore quarterback Dane Hatfield totaled seven touchdowns against the Panthers, six of them rushing.
“It’s really how I’ve been raised and how I am,” said Hatfield. “I just know I need to stay calm, get it done. Trust my teammates. And that’s what I’m gonna do.”
“That’s a kid who deserves everything he gets,” said Coach Fields. “He’s a hard worker, a great athlete, but an even better kid. In the locker room, around these guys, they like him. They rally around him, and that’s what you need in a quarterback, in a leader.”
The Winfield game was just a little closer. It came down to the final minute and 20 seconds.
Hoover was down 20-26. Hatfield and the Huskies had to drive 99 yards to try and win it.
“I fumbled,” said Hatfield.
“I told him when he fumbled like ‘Bro it’s not over. Get back in there. Do it for this team, for the community.’ And he responded,” said Rollyson. “It was pretty cool we got it done that way.”
Hoover did it, drove the length of the field. Then Hatfield threw a touchdown pass with 2 seconds left on the clock to tie the game.
Levi paxton then came out to kick, and they won it 27-26.
“To be able to hold the ball Levi kicked through is something I’ll remember forever,” said Rollyson.
“To lead a game winning drive with 1:20, as a sophomore in high school football… unreal,” said Fields. “I’ve been around that just one other time, and he was a Kennedy Award winner.”
Hoover then went on to defeat Frankfort on their turf, 17-10.
Three road playoff games, three wins.
And now, the number nine seeded Huskies are preparing to face number two Independence for the state title.
“I’ll just make sure they’re all calm, but pumped up and ready to go,” said Hatfield. “I know they’ll have my back, and I’ll have theirs.”
A state title that would mean so much to a team and community…
“There’s nothin like the river,” said Rollyson. “I’ve grown up here my whole life. So it’s really cool to be able to do it my senior year. Not only for us, but for the community as well.”
But, regardless of Friday night’s outcome, this Cinderella story still has a happy ending.
“You come here, you start to know people, start to take pride in the community because of how good they’ve been to ya, and you wanna give them a win,” said Fields. “It’s pretty cool to be around people who you care about, and who care about you. And to get an opportunity to play for a state championship for a little small town in West Virginia, that’s huge.”
Kickoff against Independence is at Wheeling Island Stadium Friday night at 7:00.
We’ll have your highlights and postgame interviews on WOWK.