SOUTHEAST GLENDALE — Losing games in the first quarter is becoming a troubling habit for the Hoover High football team.
While the Tornadoes were hardly perfect over the final three periods against South Pasadena at Moyse Field on Thursday night, it was another tepid opening that gave them an instant handicap they could never overcome for the second week in a row.
And, for the second week in a row, Hoover was back in the game by the end, even leading in the second half, but the two touchdowns yielded in the first eight minutes were heavy on the Tornadoes' minds after coming up short in another fourth quarter rally, 31-25.
"We need that burning desire early in the game instead of coming out in the second half and getting pumped up," said Hoover senior quarterback AJ Pule, who had another good game with 223 passing yards (15 for 31) with a pair of touchdowns and 74 yards rushing with another score. "It's also just the little things, the little mistakes that got us. That's how we let them score early and we didn't execute on offense.
"We beat up ourselves in the beginning and it's just sad."
Pule led Hoover (0-2) on a 92-yard drive starting with 4:30 left in the game and his team down, 31-19, on which he passed for 84 yards and scored on a one-yard keeper with 46 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to six points.
But the Tornadoes' ensuing onside kick was recovered without incident by South Pasadena.
Pule was involved in Hoover's first second-half touchdown, as well, connecting on a slant to receiver Jesse Pina (seven catches for 148 yards) that was broken down the left sideline for a 59-yard touchdown with just 1:08 elapsed in the third quarter.
"He's stepping up big," Hoover Coach Chris Long said of Pina, who caught nine balls for 192 yards in Hoover's loss to Sierra Vista last week. "[Pule's] a senior leader. I'm going to put the ball in his hands, he's doing what he needs to do."
That score put Hoover ahead for the first time all night, 19-17, but the Tornadoes failed to get the hold down for the extra-point attempt. On the night, Hoover failed to convert on three of four extra-point attempts, with two bobbled holds and one missed kick.
The Tigers (2-0) quickly answered with a six-play, 70-yard drive, powered by a short pass from Conor Bednarski to Telanto Harvey that developed into a 42-yard gain, and capped by a nine-yard run — the second of three rushing touchdowns — by Patrick Martin at the 7:48 mark of the third quarter.
Hoover's ensuing drive took the third quarter down to nearly the 2:00 mark, when the Tornadoes turned the ball over on downs. South Pasadena then capped an 82-yard drive with a Turner score at the 8:01 mark of the fourth quarter.
The Tigers got 142 yards on the ground and 177 yards through the air from Bednarski, but benefited mostly from field position, particularly in the first half when they started three possessions inside Tornadoes territory and scored on each one.
"The kickoff team really killed us tonight," Long said. "You can't play football like that."