Week 5 Predictions: Double Games of the Week highlight strong slate
Published 4:49 pm Tuesday, September 19, 2023
By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor
We’ve been hyping up this week for a while now, and it’s finally here. It’s time to enjoy two of the biggest matchups of the season.
Now, we have two high-stakes matchups with region championship implications. For that reason, both Pelham vs. Helena and Vincent at B.B. Comer are your Games of the Week.
Both are great rivalries, both are rematches of instant classics from a year ago, and both are almost guaranteed to deliver.
Beyond that, there are still strong matchups across the board with playoff implications, as well as multiple local rivalries.
Let’s dive into this week’s matchups, going classification-by-classification after the Games of the Week.
Week 4 Record: 8-3
Overall Record: 38-5
Pelham (2-1) vs. Helena (4-0) (Game of the Week)
Last Year: Helena 31, Pelham 24 (OT)
As if one of the most intense closely fought rivalries in the state needed any higher stakes, this year’s edition might have just that. Pelham and Helena have looked like two of the best and most complete teams in the region, and now, they will square off in a game that could determine the regional championship. Both sides match up well with one another. They both have strong passing games, both have great running backs with strong offensive lines in front of them, and both have defenses that prevent the pass and run well. The key difference is at the quarterback spot, as Clayton Mains’ running ability expands the playbook for Mike Vickery’s offense, while Carson Acker is more of a pure passer who relies on Jordan Washington to do the heavy lifting. It’s hard to give an edge to either team simply because they are so evenly matched, meaning whichever team finds an area where they have an early advantage could have the upper hand here. I could honestly see my pick changing multiple times this week, but for now, I see Helena’s defense making plays in enough drives to edge out Pelham. Helena 28, Pelham 21.
Vincent (4-0) at B.B. Comer (4-0) (Thursday) (Game of the Week)
Last Year: B.B. Comer 36, Vincent 35
If you talked to Vincent players anytime in the past year, they would tell you they have one game circled on their calendar: their return trip to B.B. Comer on Sept. 21. Last year’s game was where the Jackets truly announced themselves as a threat to the top of Class 2A as they led for all but a minute of a one-point thriller against the eventual state runners-up. Both teams have remained strong ever since, as B.B. Comer has already hit the top of the 2A rankings this year and Vincent has been in the top six for multiple weeks, meaning this year’s game has the chance to be even better under the bright lights and cameras of the AHSAA Game of the Week. The fact that Vincent will be televised across the state is a total testament to what coach Lucas Weatherford has done with the program. If you can’t make it down Highway 280 to Sylacauga for the matchup, those tuning in on TV should look out for how Vincent’s explosive offense led by Casen Fields and Rykelus Robertson fair against a B.B. Comer defense which had allowed just 27 points through its first three games. Fields’ health will be a factor as well after leaving last week’s game with a nagging injury, so even though he is expected to play, he may not be at 100%. B.B. Comer’s offense has scored over 30 points in multiple games, so Vincent will want to channel its lockdown form on defense to give the Jackets offense the best chance to win. I still believe deep down that this is could be Vincent’s chance to make a statement on the big stage, but my head says to pick B.B. Comer for its excellence so far. B.B. Comer 28, Vincent 24.
Spain Park (2-2) at Vestavia Hills (3-1)
Last Year: Vestavia Hills 36, Spain Park 7
Spain Park’s region-opening gauntlet continues after taking on Hoover and Thompson with another 2022 playoff team in Vestavia Hills. The Jags impressed against Hoover, and after facing Thompson, the Rebels enter somewhere in the middle. Vestavia Hills has a stout offense and defense that pushed even Thompson to the limit, so Spain Park will need to show up ready for a fight. Luckily for Spain Park, they have the roster to take advantage of the game plan that Thompson used to hold Vestavia Hills to just three points: establish the run early and often and make John Paul Head uncomfortable with pressure on him and his receivers. However, the Jags continue to deal with injury problems that limit their offensive firepower. Spain Park has surprised me before, so there’s always a chance the Jags execute this plan or another game plan from coach Tim Vakakes to success. However, I still see Vestavia Hills winning this matchup. Vestavia Hills 31, Spain Park 14.
Oak Mountain (1-3) vs. Tuscaloosa County (3-1)
Last Year: Tuscaloosa County 34, Oak Mountain 31
This matchup has the chance to be very close, and it has everything to do with the offensive playmakers on each side. Tuscaloosa County showed they have explosive potential on offense with the plays that they made against Chelsea in the regional opener, and Oak Mountain has run the football well through the opening games of the season. Both of these teams were evenly matched a year ago, and this game could once again determine positioning in Class 7A, Region 3 if the teams finish around each other in the final standings once again. The Eagles especially are in a very winnable portion of their schedule with Briarwood looming next week, so this is a great chance to generate momentum going forward. I like Tuscaloosa County here simply because I’ve been more impressed with them offensively, as the Wildcats scored 40.3 points per game in their first three games. However, with the defense the Wildcats have shown so far, don’t be surprised if they let Oak Mountain hang around in the fourth quarter and the Eagles capitalize as a result. Tuscaloosa County 42, Oak Mountain 28.
Thompson (4-0) vs. Chelsea (2-2)
Last Year: Thompson 48, Chelsea 3
While last year’s game at Chelsea was lopsided, that was mostly down to the difference between a defending state champion and a brand new 7A team. Chelsea will likely be better suited for this matchup than they were a year ago, especially coming off of a rivalry win, but unfortunately for them, Thompson looks better this year as well. The Warriors would definitely like to get out to an early lead to rest players ahead of a massive matchup with Clay-Chalkville on a short week. On the other hand, Thompson can’t expect to cruise too much, otherwise they risk letting Chelsea hang around late into the matchup. Mark Freeman coached teams don’t often get caught looking ahead, so expect Thompson to take care of business while Chelsea gets valuable game experience with a talented opponent. Thompson 35, Chelsea 7.
Calera (0-4) at Chilton County (1-3)
Last Year: Calera 38, Chilton County 14
This game presents the perfect opportunity for Calera to earn a solid win against a Chilton County team that struggles to contain offenses. That even extends to teams like Briarwood, who were looking to find their own identity on that side of the ball going into their Week 3 matchup with the Tigers before their offense started clicking and won on the road. While I don’t regard Calera’s defense as highly as Briarwood’s, their offense has shown that it has the pieces and intangibles to cause problems if given the chance. We’ve seen the Eagles to this point find their rhythm as opponents let their foot off the gas defensively, and with a weaker side like Chilton County on the docket, this could be a chance to put together a solid four quarters of football and see what happens. The Eagles will need to have a great night on all fronts to see that out, but I believe they will do just that. Calera 21, Chilton County 14.
Montevallo (3-0) vs. West Blocton (2-2)
Last Year: West Blocton 7, Montevallo 6
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this matchup, it’s to expect a close game. The last three matchups have all been decided by one point, but a 29-28 game in 2020 and a 37-36 game in 2021 turned into a 7-6 defensive barnburner in 2022. Montevallo won their meetings in 2020 and 2021, but their loss to West Blocton last year was one of many reasons that the Tigers made the playoffs over the Bulldogs. While West Blocton’s defense will likely be strong again after a solid start to the season, Montevallo should be better equipped to deal with the challenges that the Tigers will present Braxton King’s offense. I still expect another close game because rivalries like this tend to yield them, but I think Montevallo’s dynamic offense will have more of a chance to shine and will ultimately make the difference. Montevallo 24, West Blocton 21.
Evangel (6-0) vs. Lighthouse (6-0)
Last Year: Evangel 63, Lighthouse 28 (Regular Season), Evangel 55, Lighthouse 15 (State Championship)
This is another crucial matchup for the Lightning against a top-ranked eight-man side that Evangel could see down the road again, similar to last year when they met for the ACSC title. Both teams took care of business early in the season, and enter this matchup with strong offenses and defenses. The main difference is that Evangel’s defense has been on another level when compared to their eight-man counterparts this season. Lighthouse was still able to hang four touchdowns on Evangel’s historic defense last year, and I expect them to find some similar success this year. However, they won’t find the same success as they have against other in-state foes, and I expect Evangel to hold on defense for most of the game while Kemp Swords and the offense do what they normally do: score as much as they can. Evangel 48, Lighthouse 21.
Cornerstone (4-0) vs. North River (1-3)
Last Year: North River 52, Cornerstone 48
This was one of the close matchups from a year ago that Cornerstone would certainly like to flip this year as they vie to move up in the region standings and potentially even win the region title. I think that Cornerstone have a great chance to flip that result because North River has definitely regressed from a year ago. After dropping 40 points in their opener, North River only managed 14 points in each of their next two games. That lack of offense could cost them against a Cornerstone team which has a much-improved defense and potentially an even better offense than the one that hung 48 points on North River last year. For that reason, I’m taking Cornerstone to win comfortably, but there’s always a chance this is a closer matchup than expected. Cornerstone 45, North River 12.
Coosa Valley (0-4) vs. Banks (3-1)
Last Year: Banks 33, Coosa Valley 14
Coosa Valley got on the scoreboard for the first time all season last week, and those three touchdowns in the fourth quarter could be the spark that this Rebels team needs going into a crucial part of their schedule. The fact that they grabbed a pair of scores against Banks last year should be comforting. With that said, Coosa Valley has struggled to generate momentum on both ends of the field so far this season, and points have been hard to come by, much less wins. I still expect this Rebels team to make some improvements as the season goes on as they gel as a group after having to largely reform the team over the offseason. There will be chances as the season goes on to demonstrate that. This could be the game, but I don’t see it happening. Banks 40, Coosa Valley 7.