Week 11 Predictions: Two playoff spots on line in final week of regular season

Published 4:45 pm Wednesday, November 1, 2023

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

We’ve officially made it to the last week of the regular season, meaning it’s time for a week of non-region play ahead of the playoffs.

Don’t that as a sign to ignore this week’s slate, because for the first time in recent memory, multiple playoff spots are on the line this week.

Montevallo and Shelby County are both sitting with their playoff fates unresolved, and they will have a chance to wrap up their places in the postseason this week.

Beyond those two massive matchups on Thursday, we have multiple intriguing showdowns, including a county battle, a showdown of two of the best teams in the Birmingham area and then on Friday, a state championship game in 8-man football.

Let’s dive in to the Week 11 slate starting with the games with playoff implications, then going into the five Thursday matchups and finishing with the two games on Friday.

Last Week’s Picks: 10-3

Overall Record: 90-20


Montevallo vs. Tarrant (Thursday) (Game of the Week)

In a rare turn of events, Montevallo’s playoff fate will be decided by the final week of non-region play. To make the postseason, the best path for the Bulldogs is to beat Tarrant and Sipsey Valley to lose, but in order for that scenario to occur, Montevallo has to take care of business on the field. Tarrant is 3-6 this season, including two victories over winless teams and one over the last place finisher in its region. The Bulldogs should feel confident about their ability to control the Wildcats offense after they held a dynamic American Christian offense to its lowest point total of the season last week. That means the Montevallo offense will have plenty of chances to attack a Tarrant defense that has allowed 36.6 points per game. A lot will depend on if Braxton King and Razareo Conwell are able to go after picking up injuries last week, but if one or both are able to play, that bodes well for the Bulldogs. Regardless, I still believe Montevallo will hold up its end of the bargain in the chase for the playoffs. Montevallo 20, Tarrant 6.

Shelby County at Woodlawn (Thursday)

In an even rarer turn of events, Shelby County will also play for its playoff life during the last non-region week. Shelby County, Marbury and Selma are all sitting without a region win, which means if Shelby County beats Woodlawn and Marbury loses to Chilton County, the Wildcats are in the playoffs as a three seed. Combined with the fact that Woodlawn sits at 1-7 on the season, is scoring just 12.8 points per game and allowing 42.4 points per game on defense, Shelby County couldn’t ask for a more favorable matchup with its postseason on the line. However, the last two weeks have also presented the Wildcats with opportunities to win and they haven’t capitalized. The offense is starting to find its legs with Bradley Horton in the run game and young quarterback Ryan Sipes passing the ball to his improving receivers. The defense, on the other hand, while still seeing solid individual performances from players like Cooper Pennington and Eli Holliman, has taken a step back and allowed 32 and 40 points in their last two games. This is the kind of matchup that I want to take Shelby County in, but even though I believe it has a tremendous opportunity to make the playoffs this week, I just haven’t seen the results down the stretch to pick the Wildcats. Woodlawn 21, Shelby County 14.

Helena at Vestavia Hills (Thursday)

With home playoff matchups locked up for both the Huskies and Rebels, Helena and Vestavia Hills don’t have much to play for this week beyond pride and momentum going into the playoffs, and that makes this matchup tricky to predict. If Helena entered this matchup at 9-0, I firmly believe that it would have gone for the win here to earn the first undefeated regular season in school history. However, after losing to Benjamin Russell last week, it’s tricky to assess whether the Huskies will try to gain momentum for the playoffs or rest their players. I expect coach Richie Busby to rest injured stars like Torrey Ward and Hunter Hale, but apart from that, I believe the coaching staff should approach this game like a pre-test ahead of the playoffs. If Helena can successfully game plan for a talented 7A team like Vestavia Hills, there are not many teams in the Class 6A playoffs that will present a greater threat and that will be a big confidence boost. I think in an even matchup with both sets of players healthy and playing a full 48 minutes, Helena can make this a close game. However, with the Huskies likely to rest their weapons, I think the Rebels have a greater advantage to take a win. No matter the result, cherish however long both teams play their starters because it should be an intriguing matchup between two of the most exciting teams in the Birmingham area. Vestavia Hills 31, Helena 17.

Spain Park vs. Pelham (Thursday)

This could be a fun matchup between two talented teams that have nothing more to play for than pride and bragging rights over a county foe. The Jags are arguably one of the hottest teams in the state during their four-game losing streak, and they have a chance to gain even more momentum ahead of next year. Meanwhile, Pelham will potentially be without starting quarterback Clayton Mains in what would be his final appearance in a Panthers uniform. In his absence, freshman Dylan Smith performed admirably in a difficult spot last week and the running game started coming to life behind solid nights from Mike Grayson and Kalib Porter. The biggest thing that I want to see is how Pelham tries to contain Spain Park’s offense. The Panthers have big playmakers on defense like Will Felton and Bishop Rellah that will be playing their final game for this team, which could motivate them even more to get a dangerous and versatile Jags offense off the field. In the end, however, I believe that Spain Park simply has more ways to hurt Pelham on offense than the other way around. I expect a close matchup as Pelham gives this game everything it’s got, but Spain Park should establish a lead that will carry it to a fifth straight victory. Spain Park 35, Pelham 21.

Calera vs. McAdory (Thursday)

Calera has one last chance to put on a show for its fans and go for its first win of the year against a talented McAdory team. While the Jackets are just 5-4 this season, they have a talented offense that is scoring 30.6 points per game and just dropped 21 points on Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa, the most that the third-ranked team in Class 6A has allowed all season. That could pose problems for an Eagles defense that is still figuring out how it can be most effective. While McAdory could open the window for a Calera win by resting its players ahead of a very difficult matchup with top-ranked Saraland in the first round, I still expect the Jackets to do enough to walk away with a victory. Even if they lose, this is a great opportunity for Calera’s young players to get experience against strong opposition, and if this team stays together and develops, they could become a better team in the years to come. McAdory 35, Calera 14.

Briarwood at Fairhope (Friday)

Ahead of what should be a great first round matchup between Briarwood and Carver-Montgomery, the Lions will make another lengthy road trip down to Fairhope this week. While the Pirates are a 7A team, they have struggled this year to a 2-7 record, albeit with a difficult schedule. That makes this a very winnable game for Briarwood. The Lions defense will likely be eager to face a Pirates attack that is averaging just 15.6 points per game. That leads me to believe this will be a low-scoring affair, but it all hinges on who plays on Briarwood’s offense, how long they play and what they’re able to do when they’re on the field. Like Helena, Briarwood could choose to rest its players, especially with a winnable matchup next week on the road. However, getting a second win over a 7A team in a season would be a historic statement for where the program is heading since it has never been done before in school history. Despite that bit of history on the line, I believe that a close first half will lead to Fairhope pulling away by a score simply because the Pirates are simply playing for pride and have nothing to play for beyond this game. Fairhope 17, Briarwood 10.

Evangel vs. Lighthouse (Friday) (ACSC Championship)

While the Lightning have won five straight national championships, state titles have been harder to come by as Evangel fell in the 2020 and 2021 state championship games ahead of a successful run in the national playoffs. Now, the Lightning have a chance to win back-to-back ACSC titles with a victory over Lighthouse. Evangel beat Lighthouse, 40-14, earlier in the season, and both teams have gone undefeated since that showdown. Coach Tim Smith expressed some concern for this game last week as he believes his team hasn’t been in its best form since their battle with Franklin Christian, and if that is the case again this week, this game could be closer than expected. However, I believe the Lightning will come in ready to play hard with a state championship trophy as motivation. I expect a slightly closer game than their last meeting, but Evangel will prove to be too much on both ends of the field and walk away as ACSC champions once again. Evangel 44, Lighthouse 20.