Thursday, August 22
Hayden @ Springville
After a narrow 21-15 loss at Hayden last season, Springville enters the 2019 with an air of optimism and a confidence that the Tigers can avenge their loss last season against the Wildcats.
Springville will host this game with some depth and talent that should be a pleasant surprise for the Springville faithful. Offensively Springville’s read-option out of gun is captained by new starting quarterback Pearson Baldwin, who has much better size and range than previous Springville quarterbacks. His seasoned and talented offensive line featuring Skylor Strickland and CJ Williams will be going against a defense that on film just looks – well … small. Springville’s O-Line mismatch should give Baldwin time to find his favorite target this year, the outstanding senior wideout Jace Hayes.
Hayden will have to deal with an aggressive and experienced Tigers defense. Led by senior linebackers (#1) Braden Hughes and (#27) John Raby, Springville’s ability to collapse the interior and shut down the running game will be evident. The aforementioned linebackers will plug any gaps created by noseguard DJ Salas, who will be a very formidable force in the middle. This will be problematic for Hayden. They do have a good trio of running backs in seniors (#5) Evan Orr and (#17) Cole Goolsby, along with emerging star junior tailback (#17) Carson Rickels. That being said, Hayden has a size and speed deficiency. It is very heartwarming to say that the home team Springville Tigers are favored to win their opener.
Friday, August 23
Ashville vs. Ragland
The Purple Devils host 4A Ashville who managed to squeak by Ragland in 2018 with a 15-6 score for one of its two victories. Ashville’s head coach Barry Simmons is attempting to revive the Bulldogs’ offensive production. Anchored by offensive lineman senior Cam Tillman, talented Ashville junior quarterback Tyree Carmichael will rely on a read option game utilizing senior running backs Ty Armstrong, Nathan Phillips and Maurice Preston along with a stable of wide receivers and slot backs led by Derrick Walker who will be flooding short and intermediate routes on the pass option. Ragland will need to neutralize this threat by a big push up front. It will fall on interior players like Purple Devils’ defensive lineman Matt Turbville to blow up Ashville’s read-option before the misdirection develops.
Ragland head coach Derek Sewell will likely deploy his run-downhill offense right at the start. Purple Devils junior quarterback Elijiah Ball can generate big chunks of yardage on quarterback keepers, or he can turn to fleet and strong skill players like senior wideout Nathaniel Kelly and workhouse back Ladarious Spikes. Defensively the Bulldogs have an outstanding linebacker in Luke Harris supported by safety Adriane Hernandez. The Bulldogs have enough athletes and bulk at these two positions to force Ragland’s backs to bounce to the edge where running downhill becomes very difficult. Ashville’s depth and spread attack seems to have the edge for this opening game.
Leeds vs. Sylacauga
Green Wave’s new head coach Jerry Hood opens up against a Sylacauga team that has been a consistent playoff contender in Class 5A Region 5, finishing last season with a 7-4 record, which included a 56-10 thrashing of the Green Wave at Sylacauga in 2018.
The Aggies return a lot of talented running backs that will try to relentlessly wear down the Green Wave’s defense. The combined attack of All Region 5 selection senior (#11) Journey Stockdale along with senior star (#5) Jordan Ridgeway and sophomore (#3) Maleek Pope will grind out yards and grind down time in order to keep Leeds’ offense on the sideline. Leeds has a trio of defenders who can counter Sylacauga’s running attack, but if (#52) Tyrone Tower Jr., noseguard (#50) Aidan Howard or (#57) MLB Jacob Truitt get gassed or injured during the game, then one leg of the three legged stool constituting Leeds’ running defense would be knocked out, and an avalanche of Aggies’ offense would ensue.
As for Leeds’ offense, the return of spectacular playmaker senior (#4) Jakobi Hunter will electrify the Green Wave’s offensive game. Hunter is the last in a long line of FBS quality skill players that have come through Leeds over the past 10 years, and is clearly able to generate 1,000 yards on the ground and over 500 yards receiving this season. Leeds O-Line is anchored by center Zach Niles and features skill players surrounding Hunter, namely junior wideout Omar Conley (#5), along with backs junioer Cameron Dunklin and the exciting sophomore Rametrius Yelverton.
The much improved Green Wave playing at home should make the game closer than last season, but the Aggies depth will likely be too much for Leeds to overcome.
Pell City @ Fort Payne
The Panthers lost a nail-biter at last year’s home opener, stumbling at the end on the short side of a 21-17 loss, one of the many close losses that frustrated Pell City last year. This season, a newly confident Panthers team travels to Fort Payne to take on a Wildcats team that finished with a 5-5 regular season record and a first round playoff loss, most unusual for a team so accustomed to success.
Fort Payne will once again face the Panthers with their pro-set formations, with senior quarterback Matthew Shaddix backed by a two-tight, two-back formation featuring running backs senior Donald Winchester (#10) and junior (#7) Darwin Camp. The idea will be for the running attack to force the Panthers to collapse the interior, leaving All-State Honorable Mention wide receiver Carter Pinholster in isolation and become a serious downfield threat.
Defensively the Wildcats have a formidable interior in their 3-4 defensive front. Middle linebackers (#45) Nathan Crane and (#2) Hunter Love are backed up by the outstanding safety (#21) Levee Hall. This interior will force the Panthers to try and penetrate the edges. The good news is that Fort Payne’s defensive front is relatively inexperienced, much like the Panthers. Pell City quarterback Caleb Griffin should have enough time behind his experienced offensive line to stretch or misdirect the Wildcats’ linebackers and make a real game out of it.
These two teams match up so well that it is coin toss on who will win. This should be a very exciting game to watch and should go deep into the fourth quarter.
John Carroll @ St. Clair County
Last year’s total dismantling of John Carroll by the Fighting Saints in a 45-0 opening game thrashing covered up the impending downswing after a masterful 2017 campaign that got St. Clair County one game away from a 5A Championship game. After the Cavaliers, St. Clair County went through a seven game skid before finishing the season with a sobering 2-8 record. Coach Matt Glover was replaced by new head coach Brooks Dampeer.
This season’s biggest hurdle will be to improve on the Fighting Saints’ offensive production. This should not be problem against John Carroll, who gave up a stunning 460 points last season and don’t bring much up to improve that defense. The Cavaliers defensive line is anchored by Gregory Shunnarah, who at 175 pounds would be a very small defensive tackle in 1A football. He will be braced by 235 pound noseguard sophomore Kaden Robinson. John Carroll’s small defense will leave the 4, 5 and 6 holes wide open, giving the Fighting Saints ample room for quarterback Cade Golden to gash their defenses, or throw over the top off of play-action to Jackson Nelson, Michael Gilbert and Jacoby Blanks. If St. Clair County does not generate 400 yards and 40 points in this game, it will be a disappointment.
Defensively, the Saints will have one job – stop #32 (Brock Sanders). They neutralize Sanders, they neutralize John Carroll. This shouldn’t be much of a problem.
Moody and Victory Christian are open this week.