Hoover, Ala. 38, North Gwinnett 14

Alabama high school football powerhouse Hoover became the first team ever from outside of Georgia to participate in the Corky Kell Classic, and the Buccaneers made themselves feel right at home Saturday in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

After falling behind 7-0 on the third play of the game, Hoover (1-0) scored on five consecutive possessions to build a 31-7 second-quarter lead and cruised to a 38-14 victory over North Gwinnett.

Bennett Meredith, making his debut as the Hoover quarterback, passed for 305 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score in the Buccaneers’ first-half outburst. Meredith, a three-star prospect with several mid-major offers, transferred to Hoover after passing for more than 3,000 yards last season for rival Spain Park.

“The thing is, he’s got ‘it’,” Hoover coach Josh Niblett said of his quarterback. “He understands what we need to do on every play. He understands how to get the ball to where it needs to be, and he commands the offense. He’s just a special player.”

Ethan Washington gave North Gwinnett a 7-0 lead on a 73-yard run less than a minute into the game. After the teams exchanged punts, Hoover’s offense came to life. On the second play of the Bucs’ second possession, Meredith threw a short pass to Cotton Peters, who took it 44 yards for the tying touchdown.

Meredith added touchdown passes of 82 yards to KJ Law and 30 yards to Peters on the next two possessions and then scored on a 4-yard run for a 28-7 lead with 6:55 remaining in the first half.

Peyton Argent kicked a 39-yard field goal for a 31-7 lead before North Gwinnett’s Zach Johansen threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Marek Briley to cut the deficit to 31-14 with a minute to play in the half.

North Gwinnett (0-1) had 251 total yards in the first half, but about 60 percent of that came on the Bulldogs’ two touchdown plays The Bulldogs averaged just 3.2 yards on their other 31 plays of the half.

Hoover’s Ahamari Williams scored the only points in the second half on a 34-yard run with three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Hoover has won 11 Alabama state championships since 2000 (most recently in 2017) and 13 overall, and it lost in the semifinals of the highest classification the past three seasons. North Gwinnett was Georgia’s Class 7A champion in 2017 and won region titles in nine of the past 12 seasons .

“We’re not worried about making a statement,” Niblett said. “We just feel like we’ve got something to prove to ourselves. We’re not trying to prove anything to anybody else, we just want to prove to ourselves how good we can be, because we’re the ones that have got to handle it.”

Meredith finished 16-of-26 passing for 333 yards and three touchdowns. His top targets were Peters (seven receptions, 137 yards, two touchdowns) and Law (three catches, 95 yards, one touchdown), and Williams led the running game with 118 yards on 14 carries.

North Gwinnett had just 42 yards of total offense in the second half to finish with 293. Washington ran for 114 yards on 13 carries but was limited to 5-of-23 passing for 47 yards with three sacks.

“That was the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in,” Meredith said. “Just the energy walking into the stadium, and on the drive up you could see everybody out there … it was pretty awesome. We played great football. There’s a lot of things to fix, but for week 1 we played a great game, and I think the scoreboard showed that.”

Hoover - 14-17-7-0 - 38

North Gwinnett - 7-7-0-0 - 14

First quarter

N - Ethan Washington 73 run (Daniel Smith kick), 11:13

H - Cotton Peters 44 pass from Bennett Meredith (Peyton Argent kick), 7:57

H - KJ Law 82 pass from Meredith (Argent kick), 3:32

Second quarter

H - Peters 30 pass from Meredith (Argent kick), 10:38

H - Meredith 4 run (Argent kick), 6:55

H - Argent 39 field goal, 1:19

N - Marek Briley 80 pass from Zach Johansen (Smith kick), 1:01

Third quarter

H - Ahamari Williams 34 run (Argent kick), 3:00