Week 2 Playoffs Predictions: Trio of top 10 teams to tangle with county sides
Published 3:29 pm Wednesday, November 15, 2023
By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor
After a week of double-digit results in the first round, we have a certified buffet of quality football on the menu this week.
It starts with a state championship game over in 8-man football on Thursday between Cornerstone and Springwood in a rematch from an overtime thriller in the regular season and then continues on Friday with Thompson, Helena and Briarwood each taking on a top 10 team.
The Warriors will hope to improve on their 21-3 win over Vestavia Hills in the regular season, Helena will look to carry last week’s dominant showing into a road battle with unbeaten Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa and Briarwood will welcome the top team in the state in the Saraland Spartans to Lions Pride Stadium after a shutout win in the first round.
Let’s dive into this week’s slate of four matchups, going classification-by-classification.
Last Week’s Picks: 6-0
Overall Record: 103-20
Thompson vs. Vestavia Hills (Class 7A Quarterfinals)
After a relatively easy win over Florence in the first round, the Warriors will face arguably their toughest test on the road to Tuscaloosa in a rematch of their closest win of the season. The last time Thompson and Vestavia met at Warrior Stadium back in September, the game hung in the balance late with the Warriors leading just 7-3 before a pair of late touchdowns and an interception sealed the win. As the saying goes, it’s hard to beat a team twice, especially a surging one like Vestavia Hills which has played mostly stellar football since the blowout loss to Hewitt-Trussville. I wouldn’t be shocked to see another defensive battle in this one given the strengths of both units, but what I’m most interested to see is if either team will rely on the passing game more or instead go back to the ball-control style on the ground that worked well in their first meeting. Like coach Mark Freeman said after last week’s game, I expect facing Florence’s blitz packages helped prepare Trent Seaborn for a game like this where Vestavia will bring the pressure inside the box. If there’s one thing that Freeman-coached teams do well, though, it’s that they improve as the season goes on, especially in rematches. Expect a closer game than last time but a similar result as Thompson heads to the semifinals for the seventh straight season. Thompson 24, Vestavia Hills 17.
Helena at Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa (Class 6A Second Round)
After a dominant 600-plus yard performance on offense against Wetumpka, Helena’s reward is the third-ranked team in the state in Hillcrest. The Patriots have been dominant so far during their undefeated season, averaging 40.8 points per game on offense and allowing 7.1 points per game on defense. To go in and get a victory, Helena will need its best effort of the season across all three phases, but I believe that the Huskies are playing their strongest football of the year right now. Obviously, a big part of that is because of Jordan Washington’s seven-touchdown night in the first round, but now that Hunter Hale is getting healthy again, Nathan Jones has stepped up and Torrey Ward is available, that has opened up a world of options for Carson Acker in the passing game. Having a full arsenal has been the key to Helena’s success for much of the season, and if they can use that to get on the board early and play consistently well across the field, the Huskies will have a chance to win this. However, even with the talent and skill of the Huskies, Hillcrest are likely a step above where Helena is at this point, especially health-wise. The final result will probably say more about the Patriots than it does about the Huskies, but Helena has no reason to be ashamed at reaching the second round after missing out entirely last year. Hillcrest 28, Helena 14.
Briarwood vs. Saraland (Class 6A Second Round)
Thanks to the AHSAA’s travel rules, the top ranked team in Alabama will pay Briarwood Christian School a visit. Saraland has been nothing short of phenomenal this season behind Texas quarterback commit KJ Lacey, Alabama wide receiver commit Ryan Williams and a roster full of future Power Five players. The Spartans offense has scored the second-highest points in the state this season at 598 points for an average of 54.4 per game. To find success here, Briarwood needs to replicate its dominant performance against Carver-Montgomery where it pitched a shutout and made big plays throughout the first-round game. If Luke Reynolds and Grey Reebals are able to take away Lacey’s options, that could turn the game into the messy style of football that the Lions love to play. However, to do so, they will have to learn from their matchups against Clay-Chalkville and Benjamin Russell, the two quickest and most physical teams they have faced to this point. If Briarwood can keep its composure, move on if it gives up a big play and consistently excel from the first whistle to the final buzzer, this one could be closer than expected. In the end, though, I don’t see the Lions offense making up more than a 30-point gap between what the teams average on that side of the ball. Expect a valiant effort from Briarwood but a Saraland victory to close out a phenomenal turnaround to keep the program going in the right direction after a disappointing 2022 for the Lions. Saraland 38, Briarwood 13.
Cornerstone vs. Springwood (AISA 8-Man State Championship, Thursday in Montgomery)
It’s one of the biggest days in school history for Cornerstone and a chance for both teams to right the wrongs of last season after Cornerstone lost to Springwood in the semifinals last year before Springwood fell in the state title game. It took overtime to separate these teams in the regular season as the Chargers won 44-42 in a fantastic effort, but they also won the 2022 regular season meeting in close fashion before taking a decisive loss in the semifinals. That has weighed heavily on Cornerstone ever since, so expect a highly motivated team to roll in to the Cramton Bowl in search of a championship. The Chargers have the offensive firepower to walk away as the winners here with Zeke Adams’ talent both running the ball and passing it to talented receivers like Noah Schober and Keaton Keef. The defense will be the deciding factor after allowing 42 against a talented Springwood offense in their first meeting and 34, 45 and 20 points in their last three. However, Cornerstone was much improved against Evangel Montgomery last week than they were three weeks ago when they met in the regular season, and if they get two touchdowns better against Springwood like they did against Evangel Montgomery, that should be all it takes to win. If the Chargers can get off the field quickly on defense, that allows the offense more chances to find the end zone. In the end, I firmly believe that Cornerstone will show why it has been one of the best 8-man teams in the state this season with a state title to prove it. Cornerstone 48, Springwood 35.