Down 7-6 in the final minutes in the Superbowl of the 11-and-12-year-old PAL football league, the J.V. Raiders’ Austin Hoppe lined up on 1st-and-goal from the 6-yard line.
Hoppe had been the Raiders’ quarterback, but coach Howard Eberly had moved Hoppe to tight end midway through the drive.
Hoppe crouched down.
“I was thinking about which guy to block,” Hoppe said, “and how to block him.”
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A linebacker charged in from the left.
“So, I thought I’d take him,” Hoppe said.
Hoppe not only took him, but as Eberly would later notice on film, Hoppe drove him 7 yards back into the end zone.
“I basically got my hands under his shoulder pads,” Hoppe said, “and pushed him back.”
The Raiders didn’t score on the play, but on 2nd and goal, that same defender simply dove at Hoppe’s knees, essentially giving up because of the overpowering block he had just faced, and Raiders tailback Krey Harwick scored to give the Raiders their second Superbowl championship in three years with a 13-7 win over the Panthers in November in Bradenton.
“What happened on the final drive,” Eberly said, “the thing was so hectic. It was such a fast thing.”
After the kickoff, the Raiders had to fall on the ball at their own 30. Hoppe was the quarterback and hit Logan Marshall on 2nd and long on a 30-yard pass.
“He didn’t pin it against his helmet,” Eberly said. “But it was a good catch and run.”
Two years ago, the Raiders went 10-0 and won the Superbowl with basically the same group of kids, aside from Hoppe and Harwick. Hoppe was quite the addition, becoming the team’s most versatile player. Hoppe played many positions for the Raiders this year and was often sent on reverses from the wide receiver position.
“He’s our Percy Harvin-type kid,” Eberly said, referencing the Florida Gators’ multipurpose weapon who helped the team win a national championship in January. “He runs reverses, goes deep — he’s gonna be a great athlete.”
But everyone has their down moments.
“Hoppe had gotten a little unglued and fumbled the ball,” Eberly said.
“So we switched and put Hoppe at tight end.”
You might not think that a Nolan Middle School seventh-grader who wants to be a Gator also loves to kick the ball.
“One time, I kicked off,” Hoppe said, “and the guy who caught it shed one tackle, and I was the one who tackled him.”
This time, in the biggest game of his young life, Hoppe was put at tight end and made the block that helped give the Raiders the championship.