Playoff predictions: Week 1

Published 6:21 pm Thursday, November 8, 2018

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

Week 11 record: 5-3

Overall record: 63-24

Just like that, in the blink of an eye, it’s here. After an exhilarating 2018 regular season, the playoffs have been set and will kick off this Friday night with five teams from Shelby County looking to keep their seasons alive and advance.

Those five teams are Thompson, Pelham, Briarwood, Montevallo and Vincent, and no matter the competition, only one thing matters at this point of the season; bringing your best effort to the field, because if not, just like the season went by, yours could be over in a flash.

Below, we will break down the first week’s matchup as well as an outlook for a postseason run for each of the five teams.

Thompson vs. Florence

The Warriors didn’t repeat as region champions this season, but in a region that was even more difficult than a season ago, they were able to grab the No. 2 seed, which means a home matchup with Florence as they look to kick-start a redemption path this postseason with a win.

Florence is a team currently right at .500 on the season with a 5-5 record, but is coming off two consecutive wins to end the regular season against Grissom and Sparkman. The Falcons’ only losses in the last five games were to Muscle Shoals and Gadsden City by seven points or less. They are averaging 25.1 points per game offensively and giving up 21.5 points per game defensively.

Thompson looks like the better team on paper with an 8-1 record and winners of its last six games in a row. The Warriors are scoring 36.8 points per game and giving up just 17.3 points per game, having held half of their opponents to seven points or less.

While that gives them an advantage, it’s something off the paper that will help the Warriors in the first round. Having their game against Crestview (Fla.) canceled was a blessing in disguise. The final week of the regular season is always tough to get up for if you’ve clinched home-field advantage. Instead of a hard-fought and difficult road test, Thompson will now be going into this game fresher and with the last taste in its mouth being the dominant comeback win against Hewitt-Trussville on national television. If Thompson plays up to its talent, this one shouldn’t be close, but you can’t take any playoff game lightly. Should the Warriors win, they’ll get either Hewitt or James Clemens again in the quarterfinals, both of whom they have beaten this year, followed by a semifinal matchup that would likely feature the Hoover Buccaneers. Thompson 35, Florence 17

Pelham at Hartselle

There is no way around it, Pelham’s first-round road matchup with 10-0 Hartselle is going to be difficult. That being said, while it’s one of those games where an upset isn’t likely, I still wouldn’t be surprised if it happened depending on which Pelham team shows up.

The Panthers have been inconsistent throughout the year, but have so many explosive players on both sides of the ball, as well as decent depth, that they’ll have chances in this game.

When I look at Hartselle’s schedule, I see a schedule with their toughest test coming against 5A Briarwood, which the Tigers won narrowly by a final score of 14-7. It’s a schedule that Pelham could have gotten through unscathed had the Panthers played their best all season too.

That being said, the Panthers’ schedule wasn’t the most difficult either and they finished 7-3 overall with losses to Minor and Jackson-Olin that should have been wins. Losing both of those matchups in tight games, however, brings me back to the thought process of this being a 10-0 team against a 9-1 team.

Hartselle’s defense, however, should be the difference maker. With Pelham’s inconsistency on offense throughout the season, the Tigers’ stout defense that is giving up just 9.1 points per game will be tough to overcome. The Panthers are scoring 35.1 points per game and have won five of six, playing their best football to end the season, but drawing a matchup with the No. 5 team in Class 6A is their toughest test to date. If Pelham does somehow win this game, then look out. Pelham 21, Hartselle 31

Briarwood vs. Valley

There isn’t much reason to spend too much time talking about this matchup because it’s pretty straight forward. Briarwood’s defense is one of the best in the state and is coming off possibly its biggest win of the season.

Against Class 6A Region 4 champion Hueytown in the final week of the regular season, Briarwood pulled off a dominant 31-13 win to gain a ton of momentum moving into the postseason. The Lions have now won two in a row and four of five to end the regular season with that loss coming to Ramsay by a final of 21-7.

Briarwood’s defense gives them a chance in any game, but against Valley it shouldn’t just give them a chance, it should lead to a strong first-round win. The Rams are scoring just 17.9 points per game are coming off a game where their defense did all of the scoring with a safety in a 14-2 loss to Benjamin Russell. Sitting at 5-5 overall this season, Valley hasn’t sustained much momentum, while Briarwood, at 8-2, is out to make a point in the postseason.

The biggest question for the Lions, should they stay focused and take care of business on Friday, is moving forward.

If Briarwood wins its opener, they will then most likely face No. 2 Vigor in the second round, and it would get no easier after that, as the Lions would have the chance to face a No. 1 seed in every round the rest of the way, including Demopolis and Ramsay.

It’s a team that, because of the defense, will have a chance in every game it competes in, but more importantly, it’s a team that has more want and will to get there than anybody after being denied the title the last two years. I take heart and desire over anything. Briarwood 24, Valley 7

Montevallo vs. Andalusia

Montevallo has earned a much-deserved home playoff game against Andalusia this Friday after an incredible 9-1 season that was exciting to watch unfold. The Bulldogs have won five consecutive games since their loss to American Christian and have scored 38-plus points in four of those five games, as J.J. Evans and the offense continue to roll.

You eventually think somebody will stop Evans, who racks up 200-plus yards in seemingly every game, but if a defense pays too much attention to him, quarterback Malik Inabinette can find other guys in space, and running back Deon Gilliland will also make them pay.

This is a two versus three matchup, however, and won’t be won easily. Head coach Brandon Wilcox has preached four quarters all season, and it seems as if the team has responded, going on strong runs in the second half.

This week, Montevallo will need that same mindset against an Andalusia team that despite its 6-4 record, can pull off a win in this game.

Andalusia is giving up just 16.4 points per game, but the big difference in this game comes on the offensive side of the ball, as they score just 23.2 points per game.

That’s 20 points per game less than Montevallo’s offense. In games like that throughout the season, even if it becomes defensive, the Bulldogs have shown they can make plays late to win football games on both sides of the ball. It’s going to take much of the same this week, but I expect the momentum of the season to continue carrying them. Should the team win, Montevallo will likely get another 9-1 team in the second round in Headland. Montevallo 35, Andalusia 21

Vincent vs. Abbeville 

No matter how they got there, and no matter what happens against No. 8 Abbeville on Friday night, it has been a historic season for the Vincent Yellow Jackets, who will be headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and just the 19th time in the team’s 90 years.

It will be a tough matchup for the Yellow Jackets, as Abbeville has won five consecutive games, scoring 30-plus in all five and 40-plus in three of the five.

Abbeville’s schedule hasn’t been the most difficult this season, but it’s a team that has taken care of business and is scoring 36.4 points per game and giving up just 10.3 points per game.

Vincent’s offense has improved throughout the season, but is scoring just 20.5 points per game, while giving up 35.3.

The numbers don’t match up for the Jackets to be able to pull off the upset, but anything is possible in the postseason. Either way, it will be fun for Vincent to get the opportunity and is a big confidence booster for the team and their trust in first-year head coach Lucas Weatherford. Vincent 14, Abbeville 35