Playoff predictions: Thompson, Pelham, Calera, Vincent ready for Round 1
Published 7:35 pm Sunday, October 30, 2022
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor
The playoffs have arrived, and while we don’t have a historic number of teams entering the postseason like we did last year, we do have our share of exciting games featuring four Shelby County teams.
Thompson, Pelham, Calera and Vincent will all begin their 2022 playoff trek this week hoping to kick-start a special run to a state championship, and each game has a unique storyline.
With one coach going up against his former school, one school looking to start a run toward a fourth consecutive state championship, one looking to take down a top-five team and anther hoping for school history, we’re sure to get an exciting week of games.
Vincent vs. Luverne (Game of the Week)
Following a historic regular season, the Vincent Yellow Jackets will look to build on a special 2022 season by winning 10 games for the first time in school history this week. Not only would this week’s game give the Yellow Jackets that special milestone, but it would mean their first playoff win since the 2011 season as well. After going 9-1 in the regular season, the most wins during the regular season in school history, the Jackets will get to host Luverne this week as a two seed to open the playoffs.
Sitting at 6-4 overall this season, Luverne competes in a difficult region, which means the Tigers are battle tested and won’t be an easy victory for Vincent, especially if the Jackets don’t show up ready to play early. That said, the Yellow Jackets are just playing so good. The offense is scoring 47.7 points per game and the defense is giving up 14.6 points per game, while Luverne is scoring 26 and giving up 19.4. The Tigers have scored 14 or less in five different games this season and the offense has given up 41 and 44 in two of the last four weeks. If the Yellow Jackets can come ready to play, they’ll be looking at history, but not just that, this team has a chance at a deep run this season if they can stay focused and play up to their potential. Vincent 35, Luverne 22
Thompson vs. Huntsville
Thompson’s path to a fourth consecutive state championship starts with Huntsville this week to open the Class 7A playoffs. Yes, the Warriors have to show improvement offensively to have a chance at reaching that remarkable milestone, but once the postseason hits, they turn into a different team. With the offense knowing the work that is needed and the defense capable of keeping them in the game against whoever they play, the Warriors should be more than ready for another go at the title coming off a bye week.
Now sitting a 0-3 after losing 9-0 to Hoover in the region championship, Thompson goes into this matchup against Huntsville averaging 26.9 points per game. That’s not a number we’ve become accustom to the last few years with the Warriors scoring 40-plus points per game, but it is one that should be motivating them to improve and find their best football going into the playoffs. Overall, Huntsville’s defense has been solid this year at 22.9 points per game, but against a weaker schedule, the Panthers have given up 24 or more six times and gave up 55 points to a 5-4 Sparkman team. The offense has also been held to 28 or less six times this season and 14 or less twice late in the season. Expect Thompson’s defense to continue its dominant season, while the offense should at least do enough to create some separation this week. Thompson 35, Huntsville 7
Pelham vs. Northridge
One year after leaving Northridge for Pelham, Panthers’ head coach Mike Vickery will square off with his old squad in the opening round of the playoffs in a 2-3 match. Pelham gets homefield advantage as the two seed from Class 6A, Region 3 following a 4-2 trek through region play with one of those two losses by seven in overtime. Going into their final game of the season against Spain Park, the Panthers were 5-4 but had won five of seven, while all losses had come by seven or less aside from a 28-0 shutout against Homewood. Similarly, Northridge caught fire to end the season as well. After starting 0-2, the Jags bounced back with a five-game winning streak and improved to 6-3 out of a difficult region heading into their final matchup with Alma Bryant.
Now, the two square off looking to end lengthy playoff-win droughts. The Panthers haven’t won a playoff game since 2006, while Northridge hasn’t won one since 2015. Both have played in an extremely difficult region, but Northridge’s schedule has featured strong play against some of the state’s best teams. The Jags are averaging 31.9 points per game on offense and giving up 18.7 defensively, while Pelham is averaging 23.3 on offense and giving up 21.9. I think the two defenses will make this a truly entertaining and tight game, while the coaching part of this game ups it to an intense playoff battle that neither wants to lose. These two teams are evenly matched, but at the end of the day, Pelham has to get the monkey off its back and prove it can win a playoff game for the first time in 16 years. Pelham 21, Northridge 24
Calera at Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa
Good news is, the pressure will be squarely on their opponent this week, the bad news, it’s a top-five Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa team that enters the season unbeaten. For Calera, however, that means nothing. Last year, the Eagles came extremely close to upsetting Spanish Fort in a 41-31 loss to open the playoffs, and this year, don’t expect them to be scared of this challenge. Sure, it’s an uphill climb, but, this is a team that has gained so much confidence the last two years under head coach Jason Hamlin, and they’ll be ready to shoot their shot this week.
Yes, it has been an up and down season for Calera with the offense and defense trading successful weeks, but we’ve seen flashes of what this team can be when the defense enters the game determined and the offense gets the ball in space. Hillcrest is averaging 43.7 points per game and is giving up 19.4 points per game, playing remarkable football on both sides of the ball. It will be a challenge, but Calera has the potential to score upwards of 30 points and the defense to give up 30 or less. That needs to be the focus. Get together a good game plan offensively and have your defense play lights out. If they come in ready to roll, this will at least be an entertaining game. The offense, however, is going up against a defense that has given up 19 or less in six straight, and I ultimately think that makes the difference. Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa 35, Calera 21
Evangel vs. Lighthouse (ACSC State Championship)
The Evangel Lightning have been on a revenge tour all season after coming up short of last year’s ACSC State Championships. Now, the Lightning have a chance to get their ultimate revenge this Friday in the title game. Working toward this moment all season, Evangel sits at 10-0 and is coming off a 42-6 semifinal win against rival Ezekiel who won last year’s title.
The Lightning have scored 41 or more in every game so far this season, while the defense has given up 18 or less in all but one game. That one game came against Lighthouse, but it came in a 63-28 victory on Sept. 23. Lighthouse will enter off a 62-35 win against East Central HomeSchool, but the two weeks before that, they lost 58-30 to Freedom and 40-27 to East Central. They got one redemption win last week, but it’s tough to see them making it two in a row and making up close to 40 points against this Evangel defense. Expect the Lightning to roll to this year’s ACSC Championship and kickstart the path toward another national title. Evangel 49, Lighthouse 20
Cornerstone at North River Christian
It’s now postseason time for the Cornerstone Chargers and they’ll have to shake off some rust down the stretch as they look for redemption in the opening round of the AISA 8-man playoffs this Friday. The Chargers will be looking to overcome a 2-4 stretch the last six weeks after a 3-0 start that eventually saw them earn their way to 5-2.
One of those losses the last few weeks came to North River Christian in a 52-48 loss, meaning the Chargers will be looking for redemption in round one to earn a spot in the semifinals against one seed Springwood, who they beat earlier this year. North River has had its share of struggles this season as well, starting 1-4 and losing the last three in a row to finish the regular season 3-7. Cornerstone’s defense has played much better since that loss the first go around, but the offense has struggled the last two weeks and will need to get back on track against this week to have a chance. Ultimately, this game is a toss-up and Cornerstone has to hit the road, but the Chargers should be fueled by redemption in a tight game. Cornerstone 41, North River Christian 36