John Hughes offers his insights and opinions on this week’s local high school football games.
Last Week’s Results
Ragland 20 Talladega County Central 6
Gardendale 35 Pell City 6
Lincoln 28 Leeds 7
Mortimer Jordan 49 St. Clair Co. 7
Sylacauga 36 Moody 6
Appalachian 34 Victory Christian 20
White Plains 31 Ashville 20
Central Clay Co. 42 Springville 7
Ashville Bulldogs (1-3) vs. Oneonta Redskins (2-1)
Undefeated in the region, Oneonta comes into this week’s matchup against Ashville with a head of steam while the Bulldogs search for their first regional win.
The Redskins feature two strong offensive weapons running out of the backfield.
Senior running back David Hall is the featured back, capable of breaking off long touchdown runs like the 40-yard touchdown he ran against Hokes Bluff last week. Joining Hall is young speedster Collin Moon, a sophomore standout who has gained more than 100 yards in two games this season.
One would think that the inexperience of Moon and quarterback Brody Pinyan would hamper Oneonta, but they have been playing like veteran playmakers since the season’s start. The credit for much of that can be attributed to the seasoned performance of their offensive line, led by senior center Andrew Arreguin.
A surprising development this year has been Oneonta’s defense. After losing a lot of talent from last season, the Redskins have developed some of their younger guys, like sophomore middle linebacker Kobe Harper, into a collection of effective run stoppers.
Ashville will need to get down to business immediately on Friday and score early. Luke Harris, the dynamic playmaker for the Bulldogs, has improved steadily as the season has progressed. If Harris and Co. get off to a fast start, they will be in a position to temper the inevitable charge of the Redskins’ offense. The Bulldogs need to weather the third-quarter storm and position itself to win in the fourth quarter.
Moody Blue Devils (1-2) vs.Central Clay County Volunteers (3-0)
Moody faces the same challenge this week that all the teams in the county face — avoid the slow start and get some points on the board on its first drive. This week it will be a necessity — defending Class 5A state champion Central Clay County has outscored opponents 114-33 in three games.
The Volunteers will score — it is inevitable; how Moody sets the table early by showing it can move the ball downfield will determine the Blue Devils’ performance through the night. Moody has proven it can grind out a lot of yards on the ground with the strength of its offensive line and the slippery running of quarterback Connor Rush and featured tailback Terrence Moore. They need to do it in their first drives, score in the first quarter, and keep the ball out of the hands of the Volunteers. The Blue Devils’ ability to hold onto the football tightly and grind out time-consuming drives is the ticket to competing with Central Clay.
The Volunteers’ offense will give Moody’s stingy defense all it can handle. Starting with the dual-threat dangerous quarterback Philip Ogles and featured running back Quentin Knight, Central Clay has yet to run into an opponent that has found a way to stop them. The Volunteers have controlled time of possession all season; that script needs to be flipped by Moody.
Defensively, Central Clay may have the best defensive player in the region with defensive end Davion Phillips. Read-option is especially difficult against Phillips because he closes on the backfield so quickly. The Volunteers also feature a rock-solid second level led by linebacker Jaidarrius McNealey.
Pell City Panthers (1-3) at Huffman Vikings (1-3)
The Panthers travel to East Birmingham to take on Huffman in another important regional matchup. As Pell City goes through pregame warmups and looks at its big, fast opponents on the other side of the field, it should be far from intimidated. The truth of the matter is that despite the sprinkling of stars in the Vikings’ lineup, the Panthers are a more cohesive unit that executes as a group on a higher level than Huffman. Football is a team sport, and Pell City is a better team than Huffman in all three phases of the game.
That being said, the Panthers must be aware of the Vikings’ more dangerous players.
That starts with their talented wide receiver Isaiah Nickerson, who will be playing on Saturdays in the coming years. A big-play threat on every down, Nickerson will need to be checked at the line of scrimmage on every snap with support over the top from the Panthers’ safeties while the pass rush harasses the very capable quarterback Jaylon Evans. Pell City’s defense will be tempted to spread out to deal with that outside threat, which will endanger the interior to Vikings’ running back Jakobie Smith, a 5-9, 210-pound bowling ball that crashes through gaps, but is prone to bounce to the outside when those gaps are closed by the defense. That task will fall on the Panthers’ linebackers.
Pell City’s running attack will have a good opportunity to do some damage if the offensive line executes with disciplined down blocking. If Pell City’s O-line can get Huffman’s big guys on their skates, then the Panthers will be able to sustain the kind of ground-first drives that will demoralize the Vikings. The dream scenario is the Panthers’ front getting to the point of maintaining blocks before chipping to the second level and neutralizing Huffman’s linebackers, like leading tackler and senior Jacobye Green.
Pell City must accomplish a very difficult task on the road — it needs to take the game to the Vikings. Ten to 14 points produced in the first quarter by the Panthers while controlling the clock would be the ideal start to this week’s game.
Ragland Purple Devils (1-3) at Victory Christian Lions (1-2)
A well-deserved first victory for Ragland came at just the right time as it comes up this week against Victory Christian to make a claim for 1A supremacy in St. Clair County.
The Purple Devils’ defense has been a bright spot over the past two weeks. After some promising moments two weeks ago against Donoho, Ragland’s defense gelled together and dominated Talladega Central’s offense in the Purple Devils’ 20-6 victory last week.
This week, Ragland travels to Pell City to face a rested and hungry Victory Christian team. This week’s game may end up being an elimination game for the end of the season playoff berths. The winner has an inside track for a berth in the postseason, while the loser will likely have to sit out of the playoffs.
Ragland’s best players have improved steadily throughout the year. Nathaniel Kelley’s return for a touchdown last week highlighted his speed. Josh Philips has developed into a reliable fullback this season, quarterback Owen Schall has diversified his attack, and Kentrell Turner has emerged as a leading playmaker as a ‘Wildcat’ running back out of the backfield as well as at receiver.
Victory Christian matches up well as starters, but appears to surrender a bit of ground in terms of depth when compared to Ragland. The always reliable senior running back Lee Yeager can be counted on for 100 yards and a touchdown or two if healthy throughout the game. The Lions’ well-coached defense, led by senior linebacker PJ Holman, is expected to keep this game low-scoring and competitive through the first three quarters.
Ragland would have a slight edge if this game was played on a neutral field, but it is at Victory Christian. Due to homefield advantage, this game is a coin flip.
Springville Tigers (2-2) vs. Munford Lions (1-3)
Taking a detached and objective look at the Springville Tigers at this point in their region, the matchup this week against Munford will decide whether the Tigers have any chance of moving on to the playoffs this year. The Tigers’ two victories so far this season came against non-regional opponents — only one of which will count toward any type of tiebreaker scenario at the end of the year. Four teams in the region (Mortimer Jordan, Central Clay, Center Point and Sylacauga) individually would beat Springville four out of every five matchups. There are three teams Springville can beat (Munford, St. Clair County and Moody). Springville must beat the teams it can beat (like Munford), then look for a little help in order to secure the fourth- place playoff position. Springville should approach this week’s game as a playoff (or ‘play-in’) game.
Though it has a losing record, Munford does have some serious players to neutralize this week. The Lions’ best athlete is senior Rodricous Dorman, who starts at cornerback, but also comes in as a slotback/athlete on offense and special teams when they need a spark. Senior Jay Tuck has proven himself to be a solid starting quarterback who can run out of the pocket and throw effectively downfield to his favorite target — senior wide receiver LJ Flint.
Munford’s defense has been a bit suspect this season. It does have a good leader in senior linebacker Justin Sistrunk, but it has shown inconsistency in blocking and secondary coverages this year, and has given up some big plays in every game.
This week it falls on Springville’s offense to affect the outcome. It couldn’t come at a more important time. The Tigers must put in a great performance this week in order to keep their hopes of playing in November alive.
St. Clair County Saints (0-4) vs. Center Point Eagles (3-1)
As St. Clair continues its slow and steady rebuild toward the excellence it has recently become accustomed to, the Center Point Eagles that host the Saints this week are enjoying a bit of a renaissance in its program.
The Eagles are enjoying the best start of a season in six years, and there is little reason to expect any kind of letdown. Center Point is uncharacteristically injury-free so far this year and has been playing better football each week. Head coach George Bates has been blessed with outstanding athletes on his team, starting with their standout quarterback Javon Davis, who averages more than 220 yards passing per game. Davis’ favorite target is receiver/cornerback Jayson Jones, who is one of the three best athletes in the region and is a highly recruited cornerback coveted by schools like LSU, Kentucky and Louisville. Another highly recruited player is the leader of their stout defense, linebacker Noah Steen, who is being pursued by schools like South Carolina and UAB.
Center Point is the mirror image of St. Clair County. Two years ago, it was the Fighting Saints who were stocked full of FBS talent and ran deep into the playoffs, while Center Point was suffering through a stretch in which it won only three games in three seasons. This year, it is the Eagles who are soaring while St. Clair County embarks on a long journey of return and redemption. The Saints’ goal is to be a better team at the end of the year than the one that started the year. A tightening defense and a more opportune offense has been shown in flashes. A big move forward is to see those improvements sustained.
Leeds Green Wave (open)