Hoover High Coach Fred Cuccia did not want to be cocky before his team’s season opener Thursday night against the inexperienced Saugus Centurions at College of the Canyons.
Even though Hoover began the season with 17 returning starters from last year’s 5-5-1 team, Cuccia predicted that the Tornadoes might have problems.
“We can’t be too confident, we haven’t proven anything yet this season,” Cuccia said. “We expect to make some errors. But, we also expect to play well enough to win.”
True to Cuccia’s prediction, Hoover did play well enough to win, but just barely. After suffering through three quarters of error-filled play, the Tornadoes were saved by senior quarterback John Alaimo, who directed a 96-yard drive in the final two minutes to lead his team to an 18-10 win.
The drive began when Alaimo, playing in the defensive secondary, made a game-saving interception at the Hoover six-yard line. What followed were four straight completions for 48 yards by the quarterback and runs of 18, 16 and 11 yards by running back Al Roberson.
The winning play came on Alaimo’s nine-yard toss to Nader Khouzan with 32 seconds left.
Going into the game, Saugus Coach Al Hansen knew that his inexperienced team, which was 6-5 last year, would have to rely heavily on the running of Rodney Bradshaw, a senior who sat out last season with a broken ankle.
While Bradshaw shined for the Centurions, his 59 yards on 17 carries and one touchdown were not enough.
Alaimo finished 7 of 13 for 107 yards and two touchdowns. Roberson ran for 129 yards on 19 carries.
Hoover quickly committed one of the errors early that Cuccia had foreseen. On the third play of the game, Roberson fumbled to Saugus at midfield.
A 17-yard run by Bradshaw and a 21-yard scramble by quarterback Bryan Riley helped the Centurions convert the turnover into their only score of the half, a 33-yard field goal by junior Brad Rasmussen.
Hoover got untracked, if only for a short time, late in the first quarter. The Tornadoes scored on their third possession, driving 52 yards on the strength of Alaimo’s arm. He first threw 29 yards to senior Tom Konjoyan, then finished the job with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Mark Anderson.
The Tornado defense dominated Saugus’ young offensive line. Led by junior Steven Heiber, Hoover shut down Bradshaw and sacked Riley five times in the first half.
The Hoover offense was not as dominant. Plagued mostly by their own mistakes--namely penalties and dropped passes--the Tornadoes were unable to score again before halftime. Saugus blocked a punt at the Hoover 30-yard line in the waning moments of the half, but could not score.
The second half went much the same. Saugus was held to four downs for the fifth straight drive. Then, Alaimo fumbled on his 20.
The Centurions were not able to capitalize, as Joel Condren, who replaced Riley at halftime, flipped a desperation fourth-down pass incomplete.
An army of Saugus rushers blocked another punt on the next Hoover possession. This time, Condren threw passes of 14 and 19 yards, and Bradshaw scored from the one.
Hoover came right back with a 50-yard drive that bogged down at the eight. Konjoyan kicked a field goal with 11 minutes left in the game to tie the score and set the stage for Alaimo.