Shelby County Football Predictions: Week 1

Published 6:00 am Sunday, August 20, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

The time for talk is finally over. It is just about time for the Friday night lights to shine once again.

Week 1 of the Shelby County football season will officially get underway on Thursday, Aug. 24 with our first Game of the Week between Chelsea and Helena before a full slate of matchups take place on Friday, Aug. 25.

With that, it is also time to dive into each matchup and offer my thoughts on who will win this week. This is my first season running our predictions, and I’m excited to try and predict what will happen on Friday nights this fall after studying Alec Etheredge’s predictions for the last few years.

This season, you can now offer your predictions through the form at the end of the story. Whichever school receives the most votes will be the Fans’ Choice pick for that matchup, and I will post the win-loss record for the Fans’ Choice next to my running tally each week. In order for your pick to count, you must submit your prediction before kickoff of the first game, which this week will be Thursday at 7 p.m.

Now, let’s take a look at our Week 1 matchups across the county. All teams are 0-0 unless noted.

Helena vs. Chelsea (Thursday) (Game of the Week)

Last Year: Helena 28, Chelsea 6 (in Montgomery)

A year ago, this matchup was Chelsea’s grand welcome into Class 7A under the bright lights of the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery. This time, while they will square off with much less of a spotlight and pageantry, it will still be an intense matchup between two county foes who no longer share a region in Class 6A, but still enjoy facing each other. Helena made a statement in last year’s game with a 22-point win, but both the Huskies and Hornets should be improved from when they squared off last year. We know what Chelsea’s offense will look like with Carter Dotson, Emerson Russell and Jaxon Shuttlesworth leading the way, and it will be exciting to see how they match up against Helena’s strong defense. However, Helena’s offense is much less clear, and no matter if Carson Acker or Nate Ferguson start the game, it will be their first start at quarterback, which could lead to some growing pains on that side of the ball. This game is a toss-up in my eyes, but I think Helena has the talent on both sides to edge it in their favor. Helena 24, Chelsea 17.

Thompson vs. Opelika (in Montgomery)

Thompson’s defense of their fourth straight Class 7A state title will start with a marquee matchup against Opelika in the AHSAA Kickoff Classic in Montgomery. While Opelika has historically been a 7A powerhouse and perennial playoff contender, they finished 5-5 last season and missed out on the postseason. Meanwhile, the Warriors roll into this season with talent at all positions and as the top ranked team in the state. I expect Thompson to easily handle Opelika and make a statement to the rest of 7A that they are in the drivers’ seat for their fifth straight state championship. We should also get the chance to see the progressions of both Zach Sims and Trent Seaborn at quarterback and the new faces along the offensive line as coach Mark Freeman looks to solidify both positions ahead of region play. Thompson 42, Opelika 10.

Calera vs. Spain Park

Last Year: Spain Park 14, Calera 10

Calera interim coach Jerad Holder won’t have an easy start to his head coaching career as the Jags roll into town with high expectations. Coach Tim Vakakes has done a phenomenal job at turning around the culture at Spain Park and maximizing the talent within the school, and the fruits of that labor could start to ripen this season. Both the Eagles and Jags will enter with new starting quarterbacks and talent across the offense. Spain Park will carry in a lot more experienced starters on each side of the ball than Calera, and the biggest key for the Eagles will be to try and get their new players up to speed quickly to give themselves a chance to win. I think that Spain Park’s defensive stars Jared Smith, Nik Alston and Jamari Moseley will be the difference and make life difficult for a Calera offense that is just getting their feet under them. Spain Park 24, Calera 7.

Oak Mountain at Northridge

Last Year: Oak Mountain 23, Northridge 14

Another area head coach will make their debut when Shane McComb runs onto the field to call the game for Oak Mountain. This should be a good early test for the Eagles since Northridge made the 6A playoffs last year, where they fell to a very good Pelham team that Oak Mountain will face next week.. Oak Mountain won this game last year in Will O’Dell’s first game at starting quarterback, and since then, he has become an even better player on the field as he has grown more comfortable with the offense. The Eagles have talent at multiple positions, and the coaching staff has hyped up this year’s team as a new-look Oak Mountain with players in different positions and an improved culture, even though some of the stars are the same. The big question will be how quickly Oak Mountain’s players adjust to the new systems in game action after a long summer of getting up to speed. I believe the Eagles will make it two in a row over the Jaguars and show signs of the improvements they have made since McComb’s arrival. Oak Mountain 28, Northridge 10.

Pelham at Jackson-Olin

Last Year: Jackson-Olin 14, Pelham 10

After finally getting over the hump and earning their first playoff victory since 2006, the Pelham Panthers are back on the road to the playoffs, and that path starts at Jackson-Olin. Last year, the Jaguars edged out the Panthers, 14-10, when Pelham’s offense was still developing in Clayton Mains’ first start and the players were still learning what to expect under coach Mike Vickery. Now, Pelham is a much-improved team and should be in a better position to win the return matchup. Jackson-Olin will also start the season with an interim head coach after Jamaal Bess had to step down on Aug. 15 after he was deployed in the army reserve. The timing of the decision was completely out of his control and no one at Jackson-Olin wanted to have to install a new head coach just 10 days before the season opener, but now the Jaguars will have to make the best out of a bad situation. This is now three coaches in three seasons for the Jaguars, but this one has hit harder than the rest, and while you would never wish this situation on anyone, Pelham will be able to take advantage of the uncertainty and their own improvements to win this matchup. Pelham 28, Jackson-Olin 10.

Briarwood vs. Clay-Chalkville

Last Year: Clay-Chalkville 48, Briarwood 0

Briarwood has a lot of questions to answer around the field after losing key players and falling below expectations with a 3-7 record in 2022, and they will have to answer them fast with Clay-Chalkville visiting in Week 1. After the two sides met in the second round of the 2021 6A playoffs, the Cougars topped the Lions again in the season opener last year, this time by a wider margin of victory. While Clay-Chalkville fell short of repeating as state champions last year, they have the talent to get back into title contention this year, and Briarwood very likely won’t be there to challenge them in November. Expect another lopsided result this year, but the Lions should emerge from the game a better team for having faced one of the premier programs in the state. Clay-Chalkville 55, Briarwood 10.

Shelby County at West Blocton

Last Year: Shelby County 14, West Blocton 7

This is one of the more under-the-radar matchups in Week 1, but I believe it could be a great defensive battle. West Blocton has a tendency of forcing close, low-scoring games from even top opposition, and last year’s matchup with Shelby County was no different despite the Wildcats holding a classification advantage. Granted, the Wildcats offense was in a much different spot a year ago, and Ryan Sipes, Bradley Horton and the rest of that side of the ball should be better equipped for a game like this than last year. I expect Shelby County’s defense to still stifle the Tigers this time around, and the offensive improvements should give the Wildcats the edge to win for the second straight year. Shelby County 24, West Blocton 14.

Vincent at Ragland

Last Year: Vincent 41, Ragland 26

For a team that had an average margin of victory of 33.1 points in the regular season last year, this game was actually one of Vincent’s closest games of 2022. Now, the scene flips to Ragland, where the Purple Devils will look to make up a 15-point deficit from last year’s matchup against the Jackets. This is a different Vincent team that will be getting used to life with Casen Fields in the pocket and a largely new receiving corps, but they are still talented enough on both sides of the ball to overcome any growing pains that they might have to start out the season. That talent and a classification advantage should trump any home-field advantage that Ragland gets. Vincent 28, Ragland 14.

Cornerstone (1-0) vs. Coosa Valley

Last Year: Cornerstone 16, Coosa Valley 6

It may not be time for region play just yet, but for Cornerstone and Coosa Valley, this is the game they look forward to all year. The Chargers and the Rebels will do battle in their ongoing in-county rivalry with a trophy and bragging rights at stake. This is the second of two 11-man games for the Chargers, and they should come into this game with fresh experience in the format after facing Lowndes in their opener. For Coosa Valley, this is their first game, and for many of their players, it will be the first time stepping onto a football field. The Rebels only had six previous football players on their roster earlier in the summer, and that number of rookies has continued to grow as their roster has increased. The Chargers will bring back an electric attack led by dual-threat quarterback Zeke Adams, and they will have the ability to present multiple looks and run some tricky plays out of the RPO. For such an inexperienced team, that could pose a difficult first challenge, and the Cornerstone players’ big game experience in rivalry games and the playoffs last year should be the difference in this matchup. Cornerstone 30, Coosa Valley 6.

Evangel (2-0) vs. Evangel Montgomery

Last Year: Evangel 48, Evangel Montgomery 0

Evangel has already shaken off any worries of a down year thanks to a dominant win over North Carolina side Cary Christian in the Gatlinburg Black Bear Brawl, and now after two weeks on the road, the Lightning will get to play in front their home fans for the first time this season. Evangel showed a dynamic rushing attack in the opener as Caeleb Austin and Kemp Swords combined to earn four touchdowns on the ground. Evangel still has a couple of questions to answer, namely Swords’ passing ability and Hunter Atkins’ health, but the Lightning look strong on both sides of the ball and should earn a win over their in-state foes. Evangel 55, Evangel Montgomery 7.

Make your voice heard in the Fans’ Choice picks through the form here.