Week 9 predictions: Playoff spots on the line as season winds down

Published 6:57 pm Thursday, October 13, 2022

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

Week 8 record: 7-2

Overall record: 59-21

Down to our final two weeks of region play, you can feel the intensity in the air as we gear up for the ninth week of the regular season.

This week’s slate includes several games with plenty on the line for each team, whether it’s a chance at a region title, a playoff spot or playoff seeding. Each team knows what’s at stake and what’s needed to reach their goals for the 2022 season.

Calera vs. Helena (Game of the Week)

It’s been a hot and cold season for the Calera Eagles, but they are coming off a thrilling triple overtime win against Briarwood, which ultimately keeps them in the hunt for a playoff spot. This week, however, is a must-win situation for that to happen and it comes against a Helena team that is now 6-1 on the season with four wins in a row and fresh off a bye week.

The Huskies are scoring 30.1 points per game and giving up 19 points per game. They have yet to give up more than 28 in any game so far this season. Calera on the other hand has scored 21 points per game and is giving up 23.4. The Eagles have been held to 14 or less in four of seven so far. In three of the last four games, however, they have scored 31 or more. The big question going into the game is which Calera team will show up. The defense has looked dominant at times and suspect at times, while the offense has followed suit.

That said, the win against Briarwood was another huge boost for this program and shows they can compete with Helena. The Huskies, however, have been consistent on both sides of the ball this season. They may not blow Calera away with a traditional offense that likes to play the ground-and-pound game, but the offense should follow the trend of the season, which is to do enough to match the success of the defense in physical, low-scoring games. With a win, the Huskies will enter the final week of region play with a chance at the region title. Helena 31, Calera 24

Thompson at Tuscaloosa County

This game is as big as it has been in years for these two teams with both now firmly inside the top 10 of the Class 7A standings. Win or lose, Thompson has a shot at the region championship against Hoover next week, but this is a team that isn’t worried about anything more than one week at a time—and the current task at hand is the best Tuscaloosa County team in years. The Wildcats enter at 5-2 on the season and 3-2 in region play with those losses coming to Hoover 31-13 and Hewitt-Trussville 35-7. The positive for the Warriors is that the Wildcats have struggled to score points against those two defenses, and Thompson’s is no worse if not better. The Warriors have given up 14 true defensive points or less in every game, and are now giving up an average of 14.9 points per game. That alone should be enough to make the difference off a game that saw them score three defensive touchdowns in a 51-0 shutout of Oak Mountain, but the Tuscaloosa County defense will look to make this a closer game than some might expect. Whether Thompson pulls away or not depends on how well the offense plays throughout. Thompson 35, Tuscaloosa County 10

Spain Park vs. Hewitt

With a 35-21 win against Chelsea last week, Spain Park snapped a five-game losing streak with its second victory of the season. Now comes a matchup with Hewitt-Trussville that could really show the improvement this team is making under first-year head coach Tim Vakakes. Offensively, the Jags have now scored 28 and 35 points the last two weeks after being held to 21 or less in the first five games. In turn, that helped the defense put together a strong outing a week ago as well. Having that success against the Huskies, however, will be more challenging. Hewitt is giving up 18.9 points per game and has given up 17 or less in all but two games so far this season. That defense will be tough for Spain Park to score on, so it will be up to the Jags’ defense to keep this one close. Spain Park 14, Hewitt-Trussville 31 

Chelsea at Hoover

First-year Hoover head coach Wade Waldrop will get his first crack at taking on his old school this Friday in a matchup against Chelsea, where he held his first head coaching job from 2006-2012. He now has the Bucs off to a 7-1 start, while the Hornets are sitting at 1-7 with four losses in a row. Chelsea is giving up 32.1 points per game and scoring just 17, while Hoover is scoring 28.5 and giving up 10.5. The second of those two numbers for each is the highlight. The Bucs have given up 17 or less in every game and 14 or less in all but one. Expect that to make the difference, even if Chelsea’s defense has an on night. Chelsea 10, Hoover 31

Oak Mountain vs. Vestavia Hills

It doesn’t feel like Vestavia Hills is a 3-4 team. The Rebels have been a physical group most of the season, but three losses by 10 points or less have been costly, including two in region play. Now, Oak Mountain will look to hand them a fifth loss on the season this week, but that will be a tall task. The Eagles have struggled mightily on offense this season and are in the midst of a six-game losing streak. They have scored 23 or less in all but one game, 14 or less in five of six and have been shut out in two straight, while the defense has given up 34 or more in four straight and is giving up an average of 32.4 points per game. Battling for a playoff spot in the difficult region, Vestavia has seemingly found an offensive rhythm, while the defense has been solid for the majority of the season. Oak Mountain 10, Vestavia Hills 34 

Pelham vs. Homewood

It doesn’t get much bigger than this one. After snapping a seven-game losing streak to Homewood last year in a thrilling 10-7 win, the Pelham Panthers will now look to start their own winning streak this year. More importantly, a win puts them in a three-way tie with Homewood and Helena for the top spot in the region with one week left. That makes it a massive game for both, especially considering there is a razor-thin margin between winning the region title and missing the playoffs altogether in this challenging region. Pelham picked up arguably its biggest win of the season last Thursday in a 30-20 victory against Benjamin Russell to improve to 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the region, while the Panthers have now won four of five and three in a row.

A team that has lost two of the three by four or less and the other in overtime, the Panthers are very close to being 7-0. Homewood, however, currently leads the region with a 4-0 record in region play and 5-2 overall record. The Patriots are scoring 26.4 points per game and giving up 23.3 points per game. There have been times where they have looked like the better of these two teams, but there have also been times where the two look identical. That shows up in the numbers as well with Pelham scoring 26 points per game and giving up 23.1. I was originally leaning Homewood, but I’ve talked myself into it being a very close game that could go either way. At the end of the day, the Patriots are seeking revenge, and that may make the ultimate difference. Don’t be surprised if it goes the other way though. Pelham 28, Homewood 31

Briarwood at Benjamin Russell

The postseason comes down to this game for the Briarwood Lions. Any hopes of making the playoffs will rest on winning this game against Benjamin Russell, and the Lions will enter off two difficult losses in a row, falling 31-21 to Helena in a game that was tied going to the final quarter and losing 31-28 to Calera in triple overtime last week. The biggest problem for Briarwood so far this season has come on the defensive side of the football. The Lions have given up 29.9 points per game defensively, which is uncharacteristic for them, while the offense is scoring 25.1 points per game. There have been positive signs at times on both sides, but they’ll have to put it all together in this game to walk away victorious. I think they do just that. Call it a feeling, as the Wildcats should enter as the favorite, but I think Briarwood comes together this week knowing just how huge the next two weeks for them are with a very tight senior class. It’s all about focus and determination going into a game like this one. Briarwood 28, Benjamin Russell 24 

Shelby County at Marbury

With three losses in a row, the Shelby County Wildcats have now hit the final week of the region play in a must-win situation. A win in this game and they will make the playoffs, but a loss means they’ll play their final two regular season games and the season will end. The problem, however, lies within the offense. Shelby County has yet to score more than 23 points this season, while the Wildcats have been held to 13 or less in all but two games, has been shutout in two of three and has scored six or less in the last three in a row. The good news is they get a Marbury team this week that is giving up 28.9 points per game and has given up 30 or more in six of eight. They’re also struggling to score offensively at 17.3 points per game, while Shelby County’s defense has been really good, especially earlier in the season. Neither has shown much consistency to give a good feel on this game, but expect a low-scoring battle with the playoffs likely on the line for both. Shelby County 13, Marbury 14 

Montevallo at Holt

For any shot at the postseason, Montevallo has to win this one at Holt on Friday and then turn around and beat region leader American Christian a week later. This week, the Bulldogs should be able to snap their current four-game losing streak for leg one of that stretch. Holt sits at 0-7 on the season and has scored 14 or less in all seven and eight or less in six of the seven, while the Ironmen are averaging 5.1 points per game. Montevallo’s defense is giving up 20.7 points per game and playing plenty well enough to make a difference in this one. And even with the offensive struggles so far, the Bulldogs should put up points against a Holt defense giving up 38.3 per game. Montevallo 28, Holt 8

Vincent vs. Isabella

With both of these teams 7-1 on the season and sitting at 4-1 in the region, this game likely will determine which of the two gets homefield advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Vincent is scoring 48.1 points per game and giving up 12 per game, while Isabella is scoring 45.6 ppg and giving up 22. Both lost to B.B. Comer, but Vincent lost by one in a game the Jackets could have easily won, while Isabella lost by 30. Vincent, however, can’t start slow in this one, otherwise Isabella will be ready to pounce. If the Jackets avoid an early deficit and play up to their potential showcased so far, they’ll improve to 8-1 on the season. Vincent 42, Isabella 27 

Cornerstone at Meadowview

Cornerstone bounced back with a big 50-22 win against Trinity last week following two straight losses. Now, the 4-2 Chargers will get a 0-8 Meadowview team that has scored just 13 points all season and has given up an average of 50.9 points per game. Expect Cornerstone to pick up its fifth win of the season with the offense pulling away. Cornerstone 44, Meadowview 8

Evangel vs. Southern Christian

Following a bye week, the 7-0 Evangel Lightning are set for a matchup with Southern Christian this week. The Lightning have scored 59 or more in three straight games, and despite the defense giving up its most points of the season in the last two games, that’s been 28 and 18. This team is extremely talented this season and remains the top 8-man team in the country. Expect them to showcase that again this week. Evangel 56, Southern Christian 13