Playoffs Week 1 Predictions: Six county teams start quest for state glory
Published 5:46 pm Wednesday, November 8, 2023
By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor
After 11 long weeks, it’s finally time to bust out the brackets and declare a state champion.
Thompson, Helena, Briarwood, Shelby County, Vincent and Cornerstone are all left standing after a long and hard season, and now these six teams will kick off what they hope will be a road to a state championship.
Notably, every team except Briarwood will play on Thursday night as the AHSAA allowed games to be moved up with many students set to be out of school on Friday in observance of Veterans Day.
We have an exciting slate on tap this week, so let’s dive in and go classification-by-classification.
Last Week’s Picks: 7-0
Overall Record: 97-20
Thompson vs. Florence (Thursday)
The Warriors’ road to a fifth straight state championship starts against Florence, a team that earned a four seed in the playoffs but has two losses from the top three teams in the region in James Clemens and Bob Jones. Florence is battle-tested, but this will be the biggest test yet for an offense that only averages 20.0 points per game and struggles even more against top opposition. That could prove to be the difference maker as Thompson’s defense has been lights out in nearly every game this season. If the Warriors’ defense consistently holds Florence to short drives, the Thompson offense will need to take advantage quickly to score and set the tone early, especially against a Florence defense averaging 14.1 points allowed per game. I expect Thompson to find success on both ends of the field, but even if both defenses have strong nights, I have more faith in the Warriors to find motivation to improve after the Hoover game and make the plays needed to win and advance. Thompson 35, Florence 10.
Helena vs. Wetumpka (Thursday)
On paper, this matchup lines up well for Helena as Wetumpka is allowing 31.5 points per game on defense and scoring an average of nine points less than the Huskies during the regular season. However, Helena has struggled in the last two weeks with a compromised passing game, meaning the health of both Torrey Ward and Hunter Hale will be key to this team playing up to its full potential in the playoffs. Regardless of if both are 100% this week, Jordan Washington and Domynyck Santiago will need to have strong nights on offense to take advantage of a Wetumpka defense with glaring holes in it. Beyond anything the offense is able to do, however, Helena needs to show a response after its first two losses of the year to avoid ending the season on a three-game losing streak for the second straight season. I don’t see that being the case because I believe coach Richie Busby will get his players up and ready to play while getting the most out of them, no matter how banged up they are. Expect Helena’s defense to bring the pressure early and often while the offense finds its way into the end zone enough to walk away with the win. Helena 28, Wetumpka 10.
Briarwood at Carver-Montgomery
The lone Friday matchup in the county this week is a sneaky good one. Carver has just a slight edge over Briarwood on paper, which means the Lions have a solid chance to walk away victorious on the road. To do that, they will likely need to make this a lower scoring game, consistently earning stops to give the offense a chance to establish the run, set up the passing game and limit mistakes like the ones that let Fairhope back into the game in the second half last week. The defense has been a key to Briarwood’s success this season, as it hasn’t allowed over 30 points since the Spain Park game back in Week 2. It will need to perform well like it has against top opposition to win this week. I expect the Lions to set the tone early on both sides of the ball, make the game a battle in the trenches and ultimately hit the end zone on long drives against a Carver defense allowing just 16.2 points per game. Briarwood 17, Carver-Montgomery 10.
Shelby County at Eufaula (Thursday)
After an unlikely path to the playoffs, the Wildcats will get a tough test in region champion Eufaula, but they have nothing to lose from this point on. That sense of freedom combined with a solid defense and running game has cause problems in the playoffs before for many a team, and there’s always a chance that will happen with Shelby County. However, the Wildcats enter this matchup more banged up than most teams, even at this point in the season. That has limited their ability to stop Rehobeth and Woodlawn in the last two weeks and dampened their offensive productions, ultimately leading to losses in both of those games. This is a battle-tested Eufaula team that has only lost to Enterprise, Pike Road and Charles Henderson, all playoff teams. While Eufaula has a paper-thin defense that could allow Shelby County to find success at times, I think the skill gap will show in the final score line while the young talent of Shelby County gains valuable playoff experience. Eufaula 42, Shelby County 14.
Vincent at Clarke County (Thursday)
Even though Vincent slipped to the four seed, you could argue that the pairings couldn’t have been more favorable for the Jackets as they take on a 5-5 region champion in Clarke County. While those five losses have been to top 10 teams in 1A or 3A, they still present a great opportunity to find success after a tough run for Vincent through the top teams in its region. To do so, however, they will either need a monster night from Rykelus Robertson or a healthy and productive Casen Fields at quarterback to add an additional dimension to the Jackets offense. Vincent has shown a solid attack when its key pieces are fully healthy, and while no team is 100% going into the playoffs after a long and hard season, any production from its key pieces will be welcome. However, this game hinges on Vincent’s defense showing up and regaining its early season form after allowing 35 and 36 points in the last two games. I do believe that the Jackets will do enough to keep this game close, but Clarke County will pull away in the end to advance. Clarke County 28, Vincent 20.
Cornerstone vs. Evangel Montgomery (AISA 8-Man Semifinals, Thursday)
Cornerstone has prepared for this moment for the past year, and now the Chargers have a chance to improve on last year and make the state championship game. They have a great chance to do so against a struggling Evangel Montgomery side, but the Lions pushed the Chargers a little more than most Cornerstone victims by dropping 36 points in a 54-36 loss. However, I think Evangel Montgomery will find it difficult competing with Cornerstone now that the Chargers have had a couple of weeks to improve on that last game against the Lions. Expect Cornerstone’s defense to be prepared to stop Evangel Montgomery while the offense puts up its usual high numbers en route to a historic state championship appearance. Cornerstone 48, Evangel Montgomery 12.