Week 7 Predictions: Double Games of the Week in crucial region week
Published 6:23 pm Wednesday, October 4, 2023
By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor
After a brief but entertaining break from region play, it’s time to resume our regularly scheduled programming.
Non-region week brought tight showdowns, big statements and lots of storylines to dissect going into the home stretch of region play.
Both Helena vs. Briarwood and Thompson at Hewitt-Trussville could end up deciding the region title, which is why, for the second time this season, we have double Games of the Week. Beyond that, though, are plenty of intriguing matchups that provide opportunities for momentum in region play and potentially the playoff hunt as well.
With that said, let’s dive into this week’s Games of the Week and go classification-by-classification through the 12 matchups in Week 7 in Shelby County.
Last Week’s Record: 7-3
Helena (6-0) vs. Briarwood (3-2) (Game of the Week)
This may be one of the best matchups of the season because of how well-matched these two teams are. Both Helena and Briarwood have shown strong offenses and defenses over the course of the season, but especially over the last few weeks as Briarwood went a three-game winning streak and Helena continued its 6-0 start to the year. For Helena, this will be its biggest test of the season to this point, and it will be fascinating to see how the Huskies’ dynamic offense matches up with a Briarwood defense that has now gone six straight quarters without surrendering a point. Briarwood will look to limit big plays like it did in both the pass rush and pass defense against Oak Mountain to give Josh Thompson and the offense the best chance to win. The Lions offense will still need to bring its best effort of the season to this matchup since Helena’s defense is every bit as dominant as its offense. While Briarwood will definitely bring the fight and make this a close game, I believe Helena’s talent across the field will outshine Briarwood’s and the Huskies’ stars will find ways to make big plays in key moments to take the game. Helena 24, Briarwood 17.
Thompson (4-1) at Hewitt-Trussville (5-1) (Game of the Week)
Despite the flaws that Thompson showed in last week’s loss to Clay-Chalkville, the Warriors’ fight until the end has to be encouraging to coach Mark Freeman and the fans. Even though Jaylen Mbakwe and Clay’s offensive line had a field day with Thompson’s run defense, taking advantage of missed tackles and a quick backfield to gain big yardage, the final score could have been a lot worse had it not been for Trent Seaborn, Kolby Hearn and Colben Landrew’s explosive work in the passing game and big turnovers from the pass defense. Expect the Warriors to view last week as a learning opportunity, especially as they remain undefeated and need to earn a win to set themselves up for a region title, which would be Thompson’s first since 2020. That is no small order, as Hewitt’s lone loss was in Week 1 to the new top team in Class 7A, Central-Phenix City. The Huskies are once again a strong passing team, which makes Anquon Fegans, Kaleb Harris and Payton Lewis essential to stopping the Hewitt air attack. I think that unit is what makes the difference because if they make enough stops and force Hewitt to make mistakes, Seaborn and the Warriors’ offense should find opportunities to make big plays and take this matchup. It won’t be easy, but I believe Freeman will have the Warriors ready to bounce back. Thompson 28, Hewitt-Trussville 21.
Spain Park (2-3) at Tuscaloosa County (4-1)
This game has become an absolute must-win for both teams that will likely jockey with Hoover for the fourth and final playoff spot. The Jags have slipped to 0-3 in region play as injuries hampered their ability to take close games against Hoover and Vestavia Hills. After a bye week to get healthy and focus on the road ahead, expect Spain Park to come in as motivated as ever, which is saying something considering coach Tim Vakakes always gets his team ready to play. This game has the potential to be a shootout, but only if big pass plays come through on the edges from the Jaguars and Wildcats. Tuscaloosa County’s calling card throughout much of the first half of the season has been an explosive passing game, and corners like Jamari Moseley will be key to stopping that. I expect this game to be close, but I think having both Derick and Dakarai Shanks healthy will help Brock Bradley and the offense establish the run, wear the Wildcats down, and rediscover the balanced and dynamic attack that we saw during the opening stretch of the season. If the Jags do all of that, they should win in a close one. Spain Park 31, Tuscaloosa County 24.
Oak Mountain (1-5) at Hoover (1-5)
If there was ever a year for Oak Mountain to get its first win in school history over Hoover, it is this one. While the Eagles have struggled to a 1-5 start to the season and are coming off their first ever shutout loss to rival Briarwood, multiple games could have gone the other way and left Oak Mountain in a better position. However, Hoover is 1-5 as well, which means Oak Mountain has the perfect chance for a bounce-back win against a Bucs team dealing with internal and external pressure after one of the worst starts in school history. Surprisingly, Oak Mountain has both scored more points on offense (17.0 vs. 16.8 PPG) and allowed fewer points on defense than the Bucs (27.0 vs. 29.2 PPG). Still, Oak Mountain will likely need its best performance of the season on both offense and defense to overcome Hoover. I think the Eagles will be able to hang with the Bucs on the road, but I think Hoover’s experience in bigger matchups this season, including a non-region schedule which included Auburn and Mountain Brook, gives the Bucs a slight edge in a low-scoring game. Hoover 21, Oak Mountain 17.
Chelsea (2-4) vs. Vestavia Hills (4-1)
Chelsea failed to get going against Pelham on either side of the ball, and the Hornets will now need to course-correct against one of the best teams in the state regardless of classification in Vestavia Hills. The schedule doesn’t get much easier for Chelsea, but with games against Hoover and Spain Park still to come, there are still chances to win and any momentum they generate from this game is a plus. The problem is, Vestavia has been dominant on both offense and defense this season, as they were only held without a touchdown by Thompson. With Emerson Russell struggling with an injury, Chelsea will need to build off of the flashes of greatness that they have shown in the passing game and on defense to keep up with teams like Vestavia. A win likely isn’t in the cards this week, but the Hornets could still find success to propel them into the final stretch of region play. Vestavia Hills 35, Chelsea 10.
Pelham (3-2) vs. Calera (0-5)
Pelham got a bounce-back win at exactly the right time after beating Chelsea following back-to-back region losses. The Panthers can’t afford any more losses in region play if they hope to contend for the top two seeds, which is why getting back in the win column in region play against Calera is crucial. For Calera, a win would be even more important as it would be its first of the season. Pelham’s path to success last week was through a quick start as the Panthers scored 27 unanswered points in the first quarter to cruise to victory over Chelsea. Calera has struggled with teams that start fast this season, which means replicating that against the Eagles is a solid strategy. Pelham can build off of the positives last week, including better passing and a strong defense, and develop itself ahead of two important games against Ben Russell and Homewood. The Panthers can also take advantage of this week to establish a more complete rushing attack through the running back group shouldering the load with Clayton Mains. Expect more of the same from both Pelham and Calera: a fast start from the Panthers and some better late drives from the Eagles to make up some ground. Pelham 28, Calera 7.
Shelby County (1-4) vs. Demopolis (3-2)
Shelby County got a tough test last week against Moody, and the challenges just keep coming with a Demopolis team that has only lost to a pair of ranked opponents from Class 4A. Demopolis looks solid under its first-year head coach, which means it’s important for Shelby County to start putting its offense together and showing growth on that side of the ball. The good news is, the Wildcats have lots of positives to build off of on that front from the last couple of weeks, and the defense is as strong as ever. The best path to a Wildcats win will be the defense getting enough stops that the offense is able to find itself and score a couple of touchdowns. However, that could be a challenge against Demopolis because of what we’ve seen from the Tigers so far. I still expect a closer and lower scoring game than last year, but the on-field results from Shelby County haven’t given me enough confidence to pick them in this kind of a matchup. Demopolis 20, Shelby County 7.
Montevallo (4-1) vs. Sipsey Valley (3-2)
After losing a close one to West Blocton, Montevallo once again proved its worth in clutch situations with a late touchdown to seal the win over Jemison. Now with two close victories over a pair of 5A teams in Shelby County and Jemison, the Bulldogs should have even more confidence going into a very tough closing stretch of region play. That starts against Sipsey Valley, which beat the Bulldogs handily last year and ended up with a tiebreaker over Montevallo for the final playoff spot. The Bears have another strong offense this year, which makes a big defensive performance imperative for a Montevallo win. Luckily for the Bulldogs, they are averaging just 13.8 points allowed per game this season, so even though this is their biggest test to date, they have shown the signs that they can guide the team to a win. The offense has taken a bit of a hit the last two weeks, meaning a bounce-back performance is needed, especially if Sipsey Valley gets a couple of early scores. This game could easily be a repeat of last year. if Montevallo doesn’t show up completely ready to play. However, I believe the defense will do just enough to let the Bulldogs take advantage and draw from last week’s performance for another close win. Montevallo 24, Sipsey Valley 20.
Vincent (4-2) vs. Ranburne (3-2)
On paper, this should be a fairly easy Vincent win. On the field, it’s a much different situation. After losing their momentum with a shutout loss to top-ranked B.B. Comer, the Jackets have now lost back-to-back games and need a solid performance to get their confidence back. However, Vincent should come into this homecoming matchup aware of the stakes and ready to make a statement. Jayden Roberts emerged from last week’s game as another strong rushing weapon for the Jackets, which should help ease the load for Rykelus Robertson and Casen Fields down the stretch, especially if Robertson is not at 100%. More importantly though, Vincent needs to limit self-inflicted wounds to avoid another situation where its opponent is able to capitalize. I expect the defense to come out and give another strong performance, which should give the offense time to find its form again on the field. Overall, this should be a good win for Vincent to regain confidence and continue its quest for the top two seeds in the region. Vincent 35, Ranburne 14.
Evangel (8-0) at Franklin Christian (TN) (6-0)
In the penultimate game of the regular season for Evangel, it’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the nation in 8-man football. Evangel had another strong week against rival Ezekiel last week, but the Lightning may need to draw more from their comeback win against Lighthouse as they face a Franklin Christian team that could challenge them in similar ways to how Lighthouse did early on. Franklin Christian hasn’t faced the same challenges that Evangel has, but the Falcons beat Freedom by a wider margin than Evangel did against their lone common opponent. The Falcons will bring a strong defense to match up with Evangel’s electric offense, so expect a more low-scoring battle than what 8-man football normally brings. At the end of the day, Evangel should still be in control of this matchup even on the road out-of-state against a top opponent, and the Lightning should pass their final test before the playoffs begin. Evangel 36, Franklin Christian 18.
Cornerstone (6-0) vs. Trinity (0-5)
Even though Cornerstone is still unbeaten and in the driver’s seat for the state title, the Chargers have had to work for their last three wins. After beating Springwood a few weeks ago, Cornerstone has gotten off to a pair of slow starts, and coach James Lee wants to correct that down the stretch. The Chargers have a great opportunity to do that against a Trinity team that has struggled to find the scoreboard or the win column this year. Expect another electric performance from Zeke Adams, along with strong nights from the players around him on offense and defense, as Cornerstone regains its footing ahead of the home stretch. Cornerstone 65, Trinity 0.
Coosa Valley (0-6) at Crenshaw (5-2)
The Rebels feel like they left a win on the table against Evangel Montgomery, a team that they beat last season. Despite the 0-6 start, Coosa Valley continues to make improvements on defense and on the ground, as multiple defensive players stepped up with turnovers and big plays and the running game got over 100 yards for the second straight week. Coosa Valley will need to continue building off of that as the opportunities for wins come up later in the season. Getting a win against Crenshaw will be very difficult, but this road matchup presents another chance for the Rebels’ passing game to start to emerge and for Coosa Valley to show more consistency across the board. The Rebels should find the end zone in this game, but the best chance at a first win is more likely to come in the weeks ahead instead of this one. Crenshaw 36, Coosa Valley 8.