Playoff predictions: 5 teams gear up for Round 2 games
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor
Round 1 record: 4-3
Overall record: 74-14
For the first time since 1997, five teams from Shelby County are headed to the second round of the playoffs. After advancing with wins last week, Thompson, Oak Mountain, Briarwood, Helena and Montevallo helped this become one of the best in the county’s history and will now look to take it a round further.
Since 1997, four teams advanced in both 2005 and 2007, but that’s the most to make it this far until the five teams this year. And last week’s wins came in thrilling fashion for several teams.
Briarwood, Helena and Oak Mountain had remarkable comeback victories after falling behind by double digits, Montevallo pulled off an incredible overtime upset of St. James 27-21 and Thompson took care of business with a dominant 49-7 win against Grissom.
Now, three of those teams will take on difficult matchups looking to punch a ticket to the quarterfinals, while Thompson and Oak Mountain will look for a spot in the Class 7A semifinals when they hit the field this Friday.
Thompson vs. Hewitt-Trussville
For the fourth year in a row, the Thompson Warriors are in the quarterfinals of the Class 7A playoffs looking for their fourth trip to the semifinals in a row as the defending state champs. And for the second time in the last three years, it will come in a rematch against Hewitt-Trussville. Two years ago, the Warriors beat Hewitt 37-13 in the quarterfinals after winning 63-49 in the regular season. This year, Thompson enters with an 11-0 record and beat the Huskies 35-21 in the regular season.
That actually marked the second closest game of the season for Thompson, which should give a now healthy Hewitt-Trussville team some confidence while also making the Warriors wary of a possible upset. The Huskies are also entering the game off a dominant win 55-12 win against a good James Clemens team.
The Huskies have also scored 42 or more points in four straight games and have given up 21 or less in their last three. They’re averaging 35.3 points per game and giving up 17.6. But Hewitt was too one dimensional in the first matchup. They had to rely completely on running backs Armoni Goodwin and Sean Jackson. And while they had a few explosive plays that allowed the Huskies to hang around, the Thompson defense was honed in on them the majority of the night.
With Thompson’s offense averaging 43.7 points per game and still too difficult for defenses to match up with due to the amount of talent across the field and the defense still giving up 14.9 points per game, it’s tough to see Hewitt making up 14 points in order to win. I do think it will be close, but Thompson is on a mission to repeat and the Warriors know the effort it’s going to take. Thompson 42, Hewitt-Trussville 31
Oak Mountain at Hoover
The Oak Mountain Eagles are on to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and will now look to advance to the semifinals for just the second time in school history. But it won’t come easy, as the Eagles will get a rematch with No. 2 Hoover—a game they lost 42-7 during the regular season.
But after Oak Mountain’s 41-28 upset against No. 9 Austin, possibly the team’s best game of the season, the Eagles are confident and anything is possible. Evan Smith continues to be a stellar running the football from the quarterback position, while Judah Tait adds a physical back that also tops 100 yards on the ground in seemingly every game. Hoover is coming off a 49-14 win against Sparkman in the first round and sits at 10-1 on the season with the only loss coming to Thompson.
In the first game, Hoover racked up 497 yards of offense, 374 of which came through the air. For Oak Mountain to have a shot, the Eagles not only have to control the tempo with their ground game on offense, but they have to play better defense. And they can’t just rely on stopping the pass because the Bucs are arguably better at running the football. It’s going to take a perfect performance to have a chance, and while I think it will be closer this time around, Hoover remains the favorite. Oak Mountain 21, Hoover 38
Briarwood at Oxford
Briarwood trailed Hartselle 14-3 at the half in the first round of the playoffs, but came back to outscore the Tigers 28-3 in the second half for a 31-17 victory to advance to the second round of the playoffs. What’s their reward? A matchup with defending state champ Oxford, who is again the No. 1 team in the classification.
Oxford is 10-1 on the season with 10 wins in a row following a 56-34 loss to 7A No. 1 Thompson to open the season. The Yellow Jackets have tackled one of the state’s most difficult schedule, scoring 45.4 points per game and giving up 18.5 points per game.
The positive for Briarwood is that the Lions will bring one of the best defenses Oxford has had to face this season. Thompson is the best Oxford has faced, but the Lions are giving up right around 11 points per game this season and continue to be led by one of the state’s best players in Tyler Waugh.
If the Lions’ defense can figure a way out to shut down Yellow Jacket quarterback Trey Higgins, then they’ll at least have a chance in this one, but as one of the top at his position in the state, that will be a tall task. But, I think this game will be tight because of the defense Briarwood has. If the Lions can hold Oxford to 35 or less, they’ll at least have a chance and it will come down to playmakers like Luke Reebals and Christopher Vizzina on offense. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that defenses can make a real difference, especially in postseason play. Oxford 35, Briarwood 24
Helena at Spanish Fort
To fit in with the theme of 2020, it has been an odd year for the Helena football team after not playing for three straight weeks due to COVID-19 both in their program and others. But following a 2-2 start to the season, that three-week gap gave the Huskies a chance to regroup, and regroup they did.
Helena has now won four games in a row, including a big 12-7 win against three-time defending 5A champ UMS-Wright in the regular-season finale and a thrilling 22-19 comeback win against Carver-Montgomery last week thanks to 22 unanswered points in the second half.
The Huskies have given up 19 points or less in those four wins and have given up 19 or less in six of their eight games this season. The only time they gave up more were in losses to Chelsea and Wetumpka 27-23 and 28-22, respectively.
Offensively, Helena hasn’t been playing lights out, but it’s a team that loves to play physical on both sides of the ball, which means controlling the tempo and wearing you down. That happens with strong running from Marquis Johnson and Kobe Hughes, who have worn down defenses in the first half and sparked comebacks against those tired defenses in the second half.
This week, the Huskies get another team that will play right into their hands. Spanish Fort is 8-3 on the season but is only scoring 24.4 points per game while the defense is giving up 14.5 points per game. The Toros will play strong defensively, there is no questioning that, but they have struggled to score a lot of points this year, especially against the best defenses they have seen.
Helena has two big wins in a row, and the defense has played lights out. If the Huskies can play good early on that side of the ball, they’ll be in great shape again this week. I don’t see either team pulling away, which gives both a chance. But Spanish Fort won the region title in a slightly more difficult region, so the Toros should have a slight edge. Helena 14, Spanish Fort 21
Montevallo vs. Handley (Game at Helena)
The Montevallo Bulldogs pulled off one of the state’s biggest upsets last week with a 27-21 overtime victory against St. James in the first round of the playoffs. Despite being under first-year head coach Blake Boren and losing 90 percent of their production from last year’s team, the Bulldogs found a way to not only get in the postseason with new players, some of who hadn’t played football in several years, they advanced to the second round.
Now, Montevallo gets to host a second-round playoff game. While the game will take place at Helena due to the Bulldogs’ field still damaged from Hurricane Zeta, it’s a remarkable accomplishment.
And it wouldn’t be surprising to see another upset this week. Handley is the No. 5 team in the rankings, but Montevallo has taken on difficult opponents throughout the year. Handley hasn’t played that difficult of a schedule and has played close with some average teams this season, beating Munford by 10 and Vigor by 12.
That said, the Tigers have picked up some good wins and have a 15-14 loss to a very good Central-Clay team. The best thing Montevallo can hope for is exactly what happened last week—just hang around.
If the Bulldogs can hang around, they’ve proven during a current four-game win streak that they can make plays late. During that stretch, they’ve made clutch play after clutch play to win games 29-28, 40-33, 27-20 and 27-21. If they’re hanging around late in this matchup, you have to feel comfortable that they can make the plays again. But, with so many young players, they have to prove they can handle each step of the postseason this year. Montevallo 22, Handley 34