Week 4 Predictions: Second week of region play highlighted by county battles
Published 10:53 am Tuesday, September 12, 2023
By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor
After the first week of region play last week, we now have a clearer picture on what each team will look like going forward in 2023.
While each team played an out-of-county opponent last week, this week sees the return of multiple in-county rivalries highlighted by two battles in 7A between four teams that look like they are trending in the right direction in Thompson, Spain Park, Oak Mountain and Chelsea.
There are many good opportunities for area teams to pick up a win and make a statement in the process, and in region play when every game can be used for momentum going forward, a win would be greatly beneficial ahead of the rest of the season.
With 11 solid games on tap this week, let’s jump into the Week 4 slate starting with our Game of the Week, and then going classification-by-classification.
Week 3 Record: 12-1
Overall Record: 30-2
Briarwood (1-2) vs. Pelham (2-0) (Game of the Week)
Last Year: Pelham 35, Briarwood 34
This matchup looks a lot different than it did a week ago, and it has everything to do with Briarwood’s improvements that it showed across the board against Chilton County last week. Even though Briarwood struggled in their first two matchups of the season, both were against top teams in Clay-Chalkville and Spain Park, and Week 3 provided the perfect chance for Will Clark and the offense to find some momentum. On the other side, Pelham is flying high after turning around last year’s slow start and showing growth even though they made the second round of the playoffs last year, and they are fresh off a bye week going into this in-county matchup. Briarwood’s defense remains its strength, and now the Lions are starting to get the offense to match. That Lions defense should pose problems for the Panthers, and it may be Clayton Mains’ biggest test of the season to date on that front. Nevertheless, I think Pelham has the weapons both in the air and on the ground to take care of this one. Pelham 28, Briarwood 10.
Spain Park (2-1) vs. Thompson (2-0)
Last Year: Thompson 35, Spain Park 14
Spain Park’s hype train kept rolling despite their loss to Hoover last week, as the Jags showed tremendous fight after losing both Shanks brothers and Reggie Jackson to injury. Despite those forcing Brock Bradley and the offense to be one-dimensional, they were still effective and nearly won. The status of those three playmakers will be crucial to deciding the outcome here. While the Jags have so far shown a balanced passing and rushing attack and a potent defense, Thompson has all of that and more, and they will be the biggest challenge this Spain Park team will face all season. The key for Spain Park will be to disrupt the Thompson offense with defensive pressure and force Trent Seaborn and his offensive line out of their comfort zone. That is even more crucial now that we have seen what happens when Thompson faces a strong pass defense, as Vestavia Hills forced three interceptions and a run-heavy attack out of the Warriors. On the flip side, Thompson needs to make plays on both sides early and often to snuff out Spain Park’s hopes of winning this game, because they have that thanks to coach Tim Vakakes. That belief will be matched up against a Thompson team who doesn’t take any opponent lightly, and that will make for an enticing showdown. I think that Thompson’s talent and experience in moments like this will prove to be the difference, but look for the Jags to show the Warriors that this is going to be different going forward as a much closer-fought rivalry. Thompson 35, Spain Park 21.
Chelsea (1-2) vs. Oak Mountain (1-2)
Last Year: Chelsea 21, Oak Mountain 7
This rivalry is always heated and close, but after Chelsea took last year’s matchup at Heardmont Park for their lone win of the season, Oak Mountain is dressing for revenge as they look to return the favor at Chelsea High on Friday. Both teams are improved from a year ago, and a key to success for both of them will be the running game. We knew coming into the season how lethal Chelsea’s Emerson Russell would be as an all-purpose back, but Le’Kamren Meadows, Marty Myricks and even quarterback Will O’Dell have formed a strong rushing attack for Oak Mountain. Whoever finds success in that aspect of the offense and stops their opponent’s run game should be in the driver’s seat to win. This game is nearly impossible to pick as a result, but at the moment, I lean towards Oak Mountain because of the diversity they present on offense. Oak Mountain 17, Chelsea 14.
Helena (3-0) vs. Chilton County (1-2)
Last Year: Helena 35, Chilton County 28 (OT)
Helena’s quest for region gold and the playoffs continues against a Chilton County team that pushed the Huskies to the limit last year in an overtime thriller. This year, however, Helena looks much improved on both fronts than they were last year, and they have the home-field advantage this time around. Look for the Helena offensive line to prioritize neutralizing Demarcus Riddick and the Tigers defensive line so they can use their rushing attack more, but if they need to get the job done in the air, Carson Acker, Hunter Hale and Torrey Ward should be more than happy to score points by that route. Richie Busby should also be able to point to this matchup from a year ago and show his team that they cannot take a game off, even with a massive rivalry game and potential region title game against Pelham looming. Expect Chilton County to still come out swinging, but Helena should prove to be too much this time around. Helena 42, Chilton County 14.
Calera (0-3) vs. Homewood (0-3)
Last Year: Homewood 48, Calera 38
Further down in 6A Region 3, Calera and Homewood will meet in a battle of two teams that could desperately use something to go their way in a rebuilding season. Last year, both teams had offensive firepower to make this a shootout, including a phenomenal all-purpose day from Braylyn Farrington for Calera, but they don’t have as much anymore. From what I’ve seen so far, I think Calera has the more talent of the two even though Homewood has the track record of success. For that reason, I’m going with an upset where Calera gets the momentum they need for region play. Calera 21, Homewood 14.
Shelby County (0-3) at Jemison (1-2)
Last Year: Shelby County 23, Jemison 6
Shelby County’s defense has been a highlight of their team this year, and I expect that to continue in this matchup against a Jemison squad coming off a mixed start to the season and which scored just six points against the Wildcats last year. That bodes well for the offense as they can capitalize on the defense’s success to take control of this game. The Wildcats had a solid passing game last week from Ryan Sipes, but in my opinion, they have an underutilized strength in the running game that can help them reach the next level. Regardless of the route they take to get there, I think the Wildcats start to find their offensive momentum here. Expect a lower scoring game but a Shelby County win. Shelby County 14, Jemison 7.
Montevallo (2-0) at Dallas County (0-2)
Last Year: Montevallo 28, Dallas County 0
Montevallo has one last road game ahead of their Week 4 home opener, and it is against a Dallas County team that they have historically handled and which usually finishes in the bottom half of the region. The Bulldogs showed a strong defense to open the season to pair with their dual attack in the air and on the ground. I expect Montevallo to find their receiving playmakers early to establish a lead and use the running game to control it throughout the game, and the Bulldogs should take this year’s contest comfortably because of that. Montevallo 35, Dallas County 14.
Vincent (3-0) at Fayetteville (1-1)
Last Year: Vincent 53, Fayetteville 0
Vincent has a massive showdown with B.B. Comer looming next Thursday, but they can’t afford to overlook any opponent in front of them, which this week is Fayetteville. With a short week on the horizon, coach Lucas Weatherford would almost certainly prefer to not work his starters too hard, but to do that, the Jackets will need to jump out to an early lead. Look for the two-headed rushing attack of Rykelus Robertson and Casen Fields to do just that, and look for Vincent to make another statement here against a team they shut out a year ago before moving on to a likely region title game next week. Vincent 35, Fayetteville 14.
Evangel (5-0) at Freedom (2-1)
Last Year: Evangel 59, Freedom 14 (Regular Season), Evangel 55, Freedom 26 (National Championship)
This is arguably the biggest 8-man game in the nation this season, as Evangel and the Freedom Cowboys met each of the last two years for the national championship. The Lightning have won each of the last four meetings over the past two seasons, and coach Tim Smith knows that the Cowboys have this game circled on their calendar looking for revenge. This is where we’ll see if Evangel has the goods to repeat for a sixth straight national championship game and even go undefeated. It will take the best game of the season from Kemp Swords, Caeleb Austin, Zion Thompson, Will Welch and the rest of Evangel’s playmakers to make the kind of statement that they want to make. I expect a game more similar to last year’s title game than their regular season encounter where Freedom stays within a few scores but Evangel largely controls the contest. Evangel 42, Freedom 21.
Cornerstone (3-0) at Springwood (4-0)
Last Year: Cornerstone 52, Springwood 50 (Regular Season), Springwood 50, Cornerstone 8 (Semifinals)
This was the game in the regular season last year where Cornerstone started looking like the playoff team that they eventually became, as Springwood was the regional champions but were handed their lone regional loss by the Chargers. Springwood dominated the rematch in the semifinals, and that loss weighed heavily on Cornerstone throughout the offseason since they knew they could beat the Wildcats. Both teams have looked strong to this point, and it should be another high-scoring thriller like in the regular season. I’ve been going back and forth on this pick, but I think the defensive growth that Cornerstone has shown so far this season turns up on at least a couple of possessions and makes the difference this year. Cornerstone 48, Springwood 32.
Coosa Valley (0-3) at Pickens (0-3)
Last Year: Pickens 26, Coosa Valley 0
While Coosa Valley has struggled for points so far this season, the defense has shown some signs of life at times, and that could bode well this week. Pickens was held to just 26 points a season ago by this Rebels defense, and in a year where coach Vince DiLorenzo’s team is searching for any kind of optimism, they have to take solace in that. That could allow Coosa Valley to hang in this matchup if enough goes right, but the cards are too stacked against the Rebels to expect a victory here. Pickens 21, Coosa Valley 0.