Week 6 Predictions: Battle of top teams in state headlines solid non-region week
Published 11:26 am Wednesday, September 27, 2023
By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor
While the bright lights and cameras of The Worldwide Leader in Sports will shine on Alabaster come Thursday, don’t let that distract from a great slate all around the county this week.
This year’s mid-season non-region week allows teams to take a break from the playoff chase to renew rivalries, test themselves against top opposition and regain momentum ahead of the stretch run. Even though the stakes are lower, look for every team to come out motivated to get a win this week.
Week 6 is headlined by a battle between arguably two of the top three teams in the state regardless of classification in Thompson and Clay-Chalkville, and two county rivalries will have increased importance with teams aiming make a statement in Briarwood vs. Oak Mountain and Pelham vs. Chelsea.
All 10 matchups this week are intriguing for a variety of reasons, so let’s dive in classification-by-classification, starting with our Game of the Week.
Week 5 Record: 7-3
Overall Record: 45-8
Thompson (4-0) vs. Clay-Chalkville (5-0) (Thursday) (Game of the Week)
Last Year: Thompson 17, Clay-Chalkville 14
One of the season’s most highly anticipated matchups has finally arrived, with the Warriors and Cougars ready for their rematch under the ESPN2 spotlight. Thompson is no stranger to nationally televised matchups against some of the top teams from around the Southeast, but even though the Warriors are ESPN regulars at this point, it doesn’t detract from how special Thursday’s matchup will be, and part of that is because of how closely matched these two teams are. Last year, the two had a defensive battle that the Warriors won in the final minutes. Now, both teams enter this matchup improved from last year, which makes this battle even more appealing. While Clay-Chalkville has been supercharged by Alabama commit Jaylen Mbawke’s move to quarterback, this year’s Thompson team might be even more loaded with weapons than any other thanks to the great performances from Trent Seaborn, Michael Dujon, Kolby Hearn, Deuce Oliver and AJ Green. However, both defenses barely give an inch, with the Cougars averaging 4.8 points allowed per game and the Warriors averaging 7.5. That signifies that this will likely be another defensive slugfest, but don’t be surprised if Thompson lets a couple big plays fly and jumps ahead by a few points. This matchup is a true coin flip, but Thompson’s talent across the field should give it the edge. Thompson 24, Clay-Chalkville 20.
Briarwood (2-2) vs. Oak Mountain (1-4)
Last Year: Briarwood 34, Oak Mountain 14
The annual battle for Highway 119 comes at a crossroads for both Briarwood and Oak Mountain. The Lions are rolling after two straight wins that saw both the offense and defense take great leaps to improve. The Eagles, on the other hand, were just a couple of plays away from beating Chelsea and Tuscaloosa County and hope to bounce back against one of their biggest rivals. Both of these teams have seen solid strides from their quarterbacks, Josh Thompson for Briarwood and Will O’Dell for Oak Mountain, and their success will likely come down to how each team’s dual-threat quarterback performs. However, the defenses are just as crucial to victory, as Briarwood shut out Pelham in the second half of their game thanks to a complete performance from the front four and secondary, and Oak Mountain has a rising young core, including Jayden Aparicio-Bailey and Kylan Baker. In the end, I think Briarwood’s momentum will make the difference, but either team could easily win this. Briarwood 28, Oak Mountain 21.
Pelham (2-2) vs. Chelsea (2-3)
Last Year: Pelham 35, Chelsea 28
Both the Panthers and Hornets will hope for a bounce-back result here after losing by double-digits in Week 5. This is a crucial game for both sides to get some momentum going ahead of the rest of region play, and what better way to do that than against a former Class 6A, Region 3 rival? The key to success for both teams will be to stop the run, as Chelsea’s Emerson Russell and Pelham’s Clayton Mains are both skilled on the ground and can rack up big yards if given the space. Russell’s skills as a receiver could also shine here if Chelsea chooses to stretch the field, which means the Panthers defense will need to shut down Russell on multiple areas of the field, even though they will be motivated to stop the run after allowing a big performance from Helena’s Jordan Washington last week. Linebackers like Pelham’s Will Felton and Bishop Rellah and Chelsea’s Anderson Brooks will be crucial to success here. However, I think the difference between the two sides lies in Pelham’s passing game since we saw it work well in the first half against Briarwood and even in spots against Helena, and those are two of the best defenses in the region this year. Pelham will be able to run a multi-faceted offense in ways that Chelsea just hasn’t shown yet, which I think gives the Panthers the edge here. Pelham should come in motivated on homecoming week to channel the emotions of both last week’s loss and this week’s festivities to get a win and set itself up well for the closing stretch. Pelham 28, Chelsea 17.
Helena (5-0) vs. Jackson-Olin (0-5)
Last Year: Helena 16, Jackson-Olin 13
This time last year, Helena came into its matchup against Jackson-Olin off of back-to-back overtime finishes against Chilton County and Pelham. This year, they won both games going away. That alone should tell the difference between the Helena of the past and the dominance that Helena is showing this year. Another big difference in this year’s matchup is Jackson-Olin’s on-field struggles, as the Mustangs are still searching for their first win and have already lost to Pelham in a game that wasn’t really close. Expect Helena to come into this game motivated to put it away quickly since the Huskies know that they should win and know a big matchup looms next week against Briarwood. Helena 55, Jackson-Olin 7.
Shelby County (1-3) at Moody (4-1)
Last Year: Moody 47, Shelby County 0
Shelby County is riding high after earning its first win of the season against Jemison heading into the bye week. It’s hard to imagine a better situation for the Wildcats to be coming into this matchup. However, Moody is one of the top five teams in Class 5A, and the only loss that the Blue Devils have taken has been against Maryland powerhouse Bishop McNamara. Moody is quickly becoming one of the top programs in the state, which makes it a tough challenge for any team, much less a 1-3 team like Shelby County. While it will be hard for the Wildcats to find positive momentum in this matchup, coach Zeb Ellison’s team can use it to answer questions on both sides of the ball ahead of the resumption of region play next week, and it will serve as a great test to improve Shelby County’s young core for the future. Moody 45, Shelby County 7.
Montevallo (3-1) vs. Jemison (1-3)
Last Year: Montevallo 20, Jemison 12
While Montevallo’s undefeated season came to an end last week against West Blocton, it came in another tight battle that the Bulldogs have been accustomed to fighting against the Tigers. Even though Montevallo will obviously feel like it should have won that matchup, the Bulldogs have a fantastic chance to bounce back against Jemison. Jemison has struggled at generating offense up to this point, which bodes well for Montevallo’s defense to turn in another standout performance and grow its confidence ahead of the rest of region play. That should give the Montevallo offense enough chances to make some plays happen and take this game. On paper, the Bulldogs’ offense should make light work of Jemison, but even if the effects of last week’s low-scoring contest creep into this week, Montevallo should still be favored. Nevertheless, I expect Montevallo to make a statement and regain its confidence ahead of a crucial home stretch of region play that still includes the top two sides Bibb County and American Christian. Montevallo 42, Jemison 14.
Vincent (4-1) vs. Childersburg (3-2)
Last Year: Vincent 42, Childersburg 13
Even though Vincent will obviously be disappointed with how it fared against top-ranked B.B. Comer, from watching the game, I felt like the result was more of a credit to B.B. Comer’s talent than where Vincent is right now. This is still a top-10 Jackets team that deserves a spot in the rankings, and they’ll have a chance to prove that in a rivalry game against an improved Childersburg team. Vincent should be favored in this matchup, but in order to come away with the win, the Jackets will need to put last week’s results in the past and come in motivated to finish strong like they did last year after the Comer loss. Vincent’s run game and defense has been its strong suits to this point, and both will be called upon yet again for a win here. More important than that, however, is the will to improve after failure, and as that was key to Vincent’s second-round run last year. Coach Lucas Weatherford and the team know how important it was as well, so expect an improved and even more motivated Jackets side this week. Vincent 35, Childersburg 21.
Evangel (7-0) at Ezekiel (4-1)
Last Year: Evangel 63, Ezekiel 18
It’s official: Evangel is the national title favorites in 8-man yet again. Everyone around the Lightning program knew how important a win over third-ranked Lighthouse was to their national championship hopes, and now, Evangel is well-positioned for a second-straight state championship and a sixth straight national championship. Even more important than that win was how they did it, as the Lightning showed great resolve after trailing at halftime for the first time all season and made a great second half comeback in the four-quarter performance I wanted to see from Evangel. The Lightning shouldn’t have to channel too much of that comeback spirit against Ezekiel, as even though this is Evangel’s biggest rivalry, this is not the Ezekiel team that has given Evangel problems in the past. The Lightning should cruise to victory here as they begin to prepare for the state and national playoffs. Evangel 60, Ezekiel 8.
Cornerstone (5-0) vs. Southern Prep (3-3)
Last Year: Southern Prep 56, Cornerstone 40
Cornerstone’s confidence is still high after beating reigning regular season champions Springwood two weeks ago, and the Chargers are still undefeated and in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the AISA 8-man playoffs. Coach James Lee is looking for a better effort after a slow start against North River last week, but the Chargers still picked up a solid win thanks to another dominant rushing performance from quarterback Zeke Adams. He will be key yet again since Southern Prep has struggled with explosive offenses so far this season. Even though the Fighting Rangers took a two-score win over Cornerstone last year, this is a much-improved Chargers team that is on a tear this season, so expect Cornerstone to jump ahead quickly and improve to 6-0. Cornerstone 48, Southern Prep 15.
Coosa Valley (0-5) vs. Evangel Montgomery (1-3)
Last Year: Coosa Valley 14, Evangel Montgomery 12
Slowly but surely, Coosa Valley is improving in ways that the win-loss column hasn’t so far. The Rebels have scored in back-to-back weeks, including last week against No. 10-ranked Banks, and they also passed the 100-yard rushing mark as a team and made plays on defense. That is important because Coosa Valley has chances to show its talent in closer games down the stretch, and that starts this week against Evangel Montgomery. Although the Lions are the reigning AISA 8-man state champions, they have struggled to generate momentum so far and are playing their first 11-man contest of the season. Coosa Valley’s comfort level at the 11-man level alone should give them a chance to win, but this Rebels team is starting to click in ways that could be rewarded this week. While I can’t fully pick the Rebels with confidence until I see a complete performance on the field, I have enough faith in the momentum that coach Vince DiLorenzo’s squad has gathered in the last two games to go for the bold prediction. I’m going with the Rebels to enter the win column in a close one. Coosa Valley 12, Evangel Montgomery 8.