Schedule Breakdown: Pelham prepares for year two under Vickery

Published 10:41 pm Thursday, July 27, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

Last year, the biggest question around Pelham was if coach Mike Vickery could continue the momentum that Tom Causey started with the Panthers football program.

This year, that question has turned into, “how far can they go?” Vickery, his assistants and the players have continued to grow the culture and stature of the school with their first playoff win since 2006, and because of that, many around Pelham are looking with hope to the 2023 schedule.

It won’t be easy, however, with a strong region ahead of them and multiple 7A non-region rivals to take on as well.

The Panthers open their season on the road on August 25 against Jackson-Olin. While Pelham lost this matchup last season at home, it was by just four points and happened before the offense truly found their footing. Now that Clayton Mains has a full season as quarterback and the weapons around him are more prepared in Vickery’s offense, Pelham has a great chance to flip this game into a win this time around.

Next, Pelham will square off with Oak Mountain in their home opener on September 1. As Pelham found out last year, there can be some early growing pains with a new head coach and system, which is what Oak Mountain has this year in Shane McComb. That means the Panthers have an opportunity to take advantage of that unfamiliarity and take a win over their county rivals from 7A.

Pelham will then have their bye week in Week 3, which coach Vickery hopes to use to tie up any loose ends in the roster before going into region play.

The Panthers will open up region play against Briarwood on the road on September 15. The two sides faced off last year for the first time as 6A regional opponents, and they delivered a 35-34 barnburner that Pelham won at home. Now, with Briarwood reloading on offense, look for Pelham’s defense to make life difficult and uncomfortable for whoever’s under center for the Lions and for the Panthers offense to lead the way once again.

Then, Pelham will prepare for arguably the biggest game of their season against fierce rival Helena on September 22. Last year saw another instant classic between the bordering schools, and both teams will be ready to deliver again with great play on both sides of the ball. The Panthers will hope to win their first matchup since 2018 over the Huskies, especially after the heartbreak of last year’s overtime loss, and the Huskies will look to continue their unbeaten streak over their neighbors.

Afterwards, Chelsea will visit Pelham on September 29 to close out the month with a non-region game. While both teams have plenty of history at the 6A level together, this is the second year that they will square off with Chelsea as a 7A team and Pelham in 6A. Despite the difference in classifications, the two sides are very evenly matched, as last year’s three-point contest showed, and the battle between second-year head coaches should be just as intriguing this season despite the lack of the usual regional playoff stakes this matchup used to have.

Pelham will then start out October with the first of four straight regional games as Calera will make the short trip to the Panthers stadium on October 6. It should be entertaining to watch Pelham’s talented secondary take on Calera’s quick receiving corps, and the plethora of other great battles around the field make this a great contest to keep on the calendar, especially with Calera adjusting to a new coach.

For the fourth straight year, Pelham and Ben Russell will take the Thursday night spotlight on Thursday, October 12 in Alex City. Pelham has won all three meetings since they joined Region 3, and the seniors have a chance to go undefeated against the Wildcats, who made the playoffs along with Pelham last year.

Then, Pelham will take on defending region champions Homewood on the road on October 20 in a battle of the top two teams in Region 3 from a year ago. Homewood had the upper hand last year, but this year they have questions at quarterback. Pelham should come in as the more experienced unit, but if the Patriots offense has everything figured out going into this late season matchups, expect fireworks on both sides of the ball.

The Panthers will then close out their regional schedule and home slate against Chilton County on October 27. Teams never want to leave anything to chance in the final week of the season, so despite Pelham winning easily last year to wrap up the number two seed in the region, if there’s playoff spots or positioning on the line, the Panthers will show up ready to give 100% to finish whatever business they have left.

Finally, Pelham will travel to local rival Spain Park on Thursday, November 2 in the regular season finale for both teams. While the main focus if either side is in the playoffs will be to make sure everyone is healthy and full of momentum going into the fight for the championship, the bragging rights at stake are too tempting to just phone it in for this week. Look for Pelham especially to go in ready to make a statement against a 7A opponent that should enter this matchup better and more talented than they were last year.

After that, the expectation around Pelham has been to start planning for the playoffs, where they’ve ended up each of the last three seasons. Should they return for a fourth straight year, they should be well prepared to take on the best of 6A thanks to their difficult schedule and ready to take the next step beyond the second round.