What did we learn?
– Class 7A picked up some momentum from good non-region wins against playoff teams from other classifications. Murphy knocked off region winner Vigor while getting the assists from Baker and Theodore to make the playoffs. Auburn crushed region winner Demopolis while they get set for 9-1 Davidson. Mountain Brook and Spain Park defeated 6A region winners Ramsay and Minor, respectively. Finally, James Clemens defeated another 6A region winner in Austin to secure the second seed from Region 4.
– Most eyes should be on the highest classification in the state, in particular the reigning state champions from Mobile: McGill-Toolen. The Jackets have had their way with just about everyone except for the tough three-overtime win over Davidson. McGill is averaging 41.6 points a game with only 10.2 given up per contest. Jeff Davis shouldn’t present anywhere near the challenge Lee-Montgomery would have had it not been for an ineligible player violation. The biggest test down south will certainly come from the winner of a potential Central-Phenix City vs Davidson quarterfinal. On paper, those look to be the two of the only teams capable of pulling off such a daunting task. Remember, this is the McGill team that trounced 6A state title contender Blount 45-12 in the mid-season. Hewitt-Trussville, Hoover, and James Clemens are teams that have tools on either offense or defense that present problems for the Jackets, but the Red Devils and Warriors are the only other teams in 7A besides McGill that averaged at least 30 points a game scoring and less than 20 points allowed. A November 18th semi-final at “The Lip” should be exciting.
– While we saw Ramsay’s issues against Grayson earlier this year, that loss looked a lot better after Hoover was beaten in similar fashion at The Met. Minor had run roughshod through just about everyone until they got a bit of a scare from Walker. Both teams’ dominance in 2016 made it surprising to see them beaten the way each were by Spain Park and Mountain Brook. Though they couldn’t stop Minor’s offense, the Jags outscored them by pounding the football on the ground. More on that below. Mountain Brook used their defense to contain Baniko Harley and bring the Ramsay offense to their pace with a 19-13 slugfest. There are certainly blueprints to defeat both these teams, it’s just a matter of finding the teams that can do it. Neither Homewood nor Clay-Chalkville fit those blueprints. But they’re both bluebloods that have pride in showing out when November hits. Since Clay formed in 1996, both Clay and Homewood have a combined 22-7 record in the first round, 21-6 if you don’t count the game they had between each other in 2006. These two aren’t likely to go quietly.
– Three teams finished the season undefeated: Park Crossing (thanks to Lee-Montgomery’s forfeiture), Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa, and Oxford. Yes, Oxford. The Jackets have been a much different team from the one that finished 3-7 and missed the playoffs last year. Oxford should be commended for going out and hiring two lower class head coaches in Scott Peavy from 5A and Lee Ozmint from 3A to be on the staff as assistants. That kind of experience is invaluable especially for the Herring, who was seeing his team slip year by year. Yes, part of it was a tougher region, but the team just seemed to be missing an edge to it. And though the schedule got a little easier this year, non-region wins over playoff bound Gadsden City and Ben Russell are reasons to be confident. They’ll host a tough Muscle Shoals squad in the first round.
– It’s hard to believe no team from Region 1 finished with less than two losses. Still, Vigor, St. Paul’s, and Jackson are a dangerous trio when November comes around. Three-loss records should not be looked at lightly when you look at the name on the jersey. St. Paul’s is the two-time reigning state champion, Jackson won the region title over them last year, and Vigor won the region title this year. As good as the records look for the Region 2 playoff teams, it’s going to be tough to split the weekend. Carroll could possibly be the lone survivor. Still, with Central-Clay County, Beauregard, and Demopolis still in the mix, Region 1 doesn’t have a cake walk to the state title game.
– 5A North has a few potential intriguing match-ups of their own with Briarwood and Mortimer Jordan eyeing a potential rematch in the quarterfinal and Scottsboro potentially facing Brooks or Wenonah to prove themselves worthy of their status. Scottsboro and Carroll were the lone unbeatens in a crazy year that couldn’t have predicted either of those in this spot. They both stood down some decent challenges throughout the year and came out on fire. Carroll shutout four opponents while averaging 36.9 points on offense. Scottsboro rode DK Billingsley and Bo Nix to the tune of 47.1 points a game while the defense averaged 14.3 points allowed. Now, to see if midnight strikes these Cinderella stories before December.
Who stood out?
Spain Park – The Jaguars showed a possible blueprint on how to beat Minor: physicality. Spain Park grounded the Tiger defense with the run game behind the duo of Larry Wooden and D’Arie Johnson. Johnson and Wooden combined for 353 yards and six touchdowns. Braxton Barker, who had taken a back seat to Hunter Howell throughout the year, finished 11-of-12 for 129 yards with an interception. While Minor still picked up over 40 points once again, Jaylond Adams was held to just 70 yards rushing for the Tigers. The win for Spain Park is a great confidence boost going into a rematch from last year’s playoffs with James Clemens.
Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa – The Patriots had a good test heading into the playoffs with a Thompson team that had allowed 30 points just once this season and 20 just twice more. Hillcrest showed they may indeed be ready for the challenge that lies ahead with a 34-23 win over the Warriors. It’s the ninth time in their 10 games that Hillcrest reached at least 34 points. However, the Pats gave up their most points on the year as well. They’ll be matched up with the Ben Russell Wildcats in the first round, a game that should present a good further indication of where Hillcrest stands as they try to stop Ben Russell’s physical ground game.
Sylacauga – The Aggies were sure to face Calera two weeks in a row when both Sylacauga and the Eagles had locked their spots in. Week 10 was the first battle with the Aggies taking the win at home by the score of 42-28. Tashun Looney had a big night with 280 yards and five touchdowns on the ground in a preview of a first round match-up in 5A. Granted, both teams held out some of their better players for the more important game in the playoffs, but the win for Sylacauga is useful as a confidence builder since they’ll have to go on the road this time.
Players of the Week
Bubba Thompson (QB, McGill-Toolen) – 18-of-19, 253 yards, three touchdowns in 42-13 victory over Fairhope
John Riehl (WR, Decatur) – 10 catches, 185 yards, three touchdowns in 59-41 win over Sparkman
Zalon Reynolds (RB, Chelsea) – 22 carries, 272 yards, touchdown as the Hornets beat Cullman 45-38
La’Damian Webb (RB, Beauregard) – 21 carries, 293 yards, four touchdowns in 63-35 win over Benjamin Russell