HOOVER, Ala. - The season-long shutout streak ended early, thanks to a long touchdown run in the first quarter. But the commitment to defense remained throughout.
It's why Hoover (Ala.) High eventually came away with a 33-10 victory over Gadsden (Ala.) Gadsden City on Friday night and why it figures to maintain its No. 4 spot in the RivalsHigh Top 100 rankings.
It's also why Hoover - in an era when new-age offensives seem to be the name of the game - continues to win the old-fashioned way.
"The trademark of our team is our defense," Hoover head coach Josh Niblett said. "Those kids play fast. We coach them to get 11 guys to the football and get there ready to make a play and they do that each week."
Hoover was facing its biggest challenge of the season in Gadsden City, the fourth-ranked team in the state.
Gadsden City lines up no fewer than four senior players on offense and at least three on defense that will be heading to Division I football programs.
"We don't get wrapped up with what the other teams have or what we don't have in terms of scholarships or stars or whatever," Niblett said.
It was evident on Friday night when the team, which was outsized at nearly every position, held its own and impressed.
After giving up its first points of the season on a 55-yard touchdown run by three-star running back Harris early in the first quarter, the Buccaneers responded - allowing just three first downs and 23 total yards the rest of the way.
"We gave that first one away," Hoover cornerback Preston Sanford said. "But our goal is to keep them out of the end zone every game and force turnovers to help our offense. We did that."
That the defense did.
The team forced three turnovers on the game, including a would-be interception for a touchdown by Sanford. The play was called back on a block in the back penalty.
But there seemed to be something else that isn't in the measurables, but was very tangible: Effort.
"One thing our kids give on every play is effort," Niblett said. "It is one thing you can't coach. We can give them the schemes, call the plays and do everything right as coaches, but if they kids don't put in the effort in practice, in the weight room, and on the field it doesn't matter. That is what I am really proud of our kids for. They always give us 100 percent effort."
It may not have been more noticeable than when the teams came out for the second half.
Hoover, to that point, had more penalties than first downs on offense and trailed 7-6.
Coming out of halftime, most of the stadium was expecting Hoover to flip a switch and run away with the game.
Instead, the kickoff was fumbled and recovered by Gadsden City.
But the Hoover defense forced the Titans to lose 2 yards and settle for a field goal, creating a 10-6 lead that would quickly vanish.
"We knew we had to play the whole game," Sanford said. "It was big for our offense to see us get that stop in the second. It was only a matter of time before they got it going. We felt good about that."
The offense responded with consecutive touchdown runs by Justin McArthur, who finished with three on the night.
Hoover is solid on offense, but it's not known for its play on that side of the ball. Not like the three teams currently ranked higher: No. 1 Batesville (Miss.) South Panola, No. 2 Euless (Texas) Trinity and No. 3 Sacramento (Calif.) Grant. Those three combined for 160 points in their wins this weekend.
And its pro-style offense won't be confused with either the power-run game of No. 8 Hampton (Va.) Phoebus or the pass-happy attack of No. 48 Miami (Fla.) Central - two schools that each won 70-0 on Thursday night.
The Buccaneers, however, don't mind a bit. They win with a defense led by coordinator Shawn Rainey.
"Coach Rainey does a great job with the kids," Niblett said. "They gang tackle and they play with a lot of determination."
And they're not done yet.
"We will have to keep working to get better," Sanford said. "Work on the little things."
And if those little things get fixed, this will likely end as another state championship season for the proud Hoover football program.
J. Mac steals the show
The Hoover defense gets most of the national headlines, but it is an offensive player that has been taking over games.
The play of diminutive Justin McArthur has been huge for the Bucs.
Against Gadsden City, McArthur scored the team's first three touchdowns, the second of which was a dagger in the heart of the opposing Titans.
McArthur opened the scoring for the Bucs with a 7-yard, physical, run up the middle to open the second quarter.
The biggest play of the game, however, was not until the second half, when McArthur - who fumbled the kickoff that gave Gadsden a 10-6 lead - went off the left side of the line and down the sidelines for a 71-yard touchdown.
"It sparked us," McArthur said. "We needed to get something going in the right direction and I think that did it."
Minutes later, he put the game out of reach with a 13-yard score off the right side of the line to put Hoover up 20-10 and take the wind out of the Gadsden City sails.
"My line was great," he said. "We like to pound it and those guys can really beat down the defense. It is only a matter of time."
This time it took until the third quarter.
The Buccaneers' last three opponents did not last as long.
Bucs recruiting roundup
Four-star wide receiver Jaylon Denson is not the only Hoover player who will end up playing Division I football.
The 6-3 Denson is solidly committed to Auburn and does not plan to change that plan.
However, a few other Bucs are starting to get the calls.
Defensive tackle Max Elliott received his first offer to Air Force.