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Pell City Panthers prepare to hike the ball at their first home game of the season against Oxford. Photo by U. Glidewell

Last week’s results

Leeds 33 Elmore County 27

Victory Christian 20 Gaylesville 13

Moody 21 St. Clair County 7

Oxford 41 Pell City 7

Donoho 25 Ragland 0

Sylacauga 42 Springville 21

Jacksonville 54 Ashville 17

Ashville Bulldogs at White Plains Wildcats

This week may be a case of excellent timing for Ashville. If one looks past the Bulldogs’ shaky start on the scoreboard, the team has shown steady improvement on both sides of the ball as the season has progressed. Ashville’s quarterback Dylan Harris has shown some versatility in his ground game and airing the ball out. Derrick Walker has had some pretty impressive moments on offense for the Bulldogs. As for Ashville’s defense the performance against Jacksonville was a one-off and doesn’t reflect the solid defensive front that did so well in stifling Springville’s offensive attack two weeks ago.

This Friday’s game against White Plains is a perfect opportunity for Ashville to get their first regional win of the season and get their record back to .500. The Wildcats defense has been a sieve of late, surrendering nearly 50 points per game against their last two opponents. White Plains does have an effective secondary, but their running defense can be exploited. If Ashville’s offense can execute Coach Barry Simmons’ offense of relentless running, there are a lot of points to be had.

Optimism should be tempered by the fact that White Plains does have a pretty effective offense. White Plains’ head coach Chandler Tyree has put together a balanced attack centered around quarterback Jaden Chatman – a true dual threat quarterback who can attack through the air to playmakers like Teddy Hall and Ethan Bozarth. Chatman also has help at running back with their key ball carrier Jaden Harris, who has carved up defenses with his legs and could easily exceed 100 yards on the ground this week. Chatman is also a threat on the ground. Ashville’s defense will be tested, but they are not outmatched. The Bulldogs have proven that they can isolate and contain playmakers when they muzzled Ragland and Springville earlier this year.

This week’s game will be one of those season defining games for Ashville. It is a great matchup of teams that will try to exploit each other’s weaknesses. It is a road test – and a difficult test – but one Ashville has the opportunity to take to claw out a victory.

Leeds Green Wave at Lincoln

How fun it must be to be a Green Wave fan this season! The quality of football gets better every week, the games are nail-biters that are decided at the end of the fourth quarter week in and week out, Coach Jerry Hood’s system is getting implemented and the result is flashes of extraordinary play on the gridiron. It appears as if Leeds is experiencing a renaissance and is returning to the Green Wave football this program is known for.

This week Leeds calls on Lincoln, and face yet another great test. Lincoln has shown through their opening games that they are a talented team. The Golden Bears are an experienced group who have a reputation of being very formidable at home. Lincoln returns several key players on both sides from last season’s team that secured a spot in the playoffs.

Leeds’ pass defense will need to keep pressure on Golden Bears quarterback Javion Surles. If Surles has time in the pocket, he has an array of targets to choose from, starting with receivers Brian Garrett and Tre Garrett. Lincoln is still waiting for a breakout player at running back, so they are rotating several backs which reflects a struggling ground attack. Leeds’ defense can exploit that.

Leeds has had their share of games that have gone down to the wire this season; this week’s game at Lincoln should be no different. Anticipating a high scoring game that will be settled by a last drive score; here’s hoping that the Green Wave gets that final drive.

Moody Blue Devils at Sylacauga Aggies

Moody travels to undefeated Sylacauga in what may be the most exciting matchup this week for a school from within St. Clair County. A casual glance at Sylacauga’s performances this season would make one assume they outmatch Moody on paper. Dig a little underneath the surface and one will discover that these are two evenly matched up teams will be fighting tooth-and-nail for this valuable regional win in 5A.

This season the Aggies have beaten their first three opponents, but by much narrower margins than last year. Meanwhile, Moody’s team is transforming under the watchful eyes of Coach Adam Wallace. The Blue Devils’ defense can be intimidating, their offense steadily improving, and their outlook more positive and confident each week. The running production of Terrance Moore has been a steady contribution, and Blue Devils’ fans are waiting for a breakout performance by this potential star. Moody’s passing game is also showing improvement with the steady progress of quarterback Conner Rush and new standout receiver in Iowa transfer student Will Grames.

The Blue Devils’ defense suffered a terrible setback when standout defensive end Christian Archer broke his collarbone and will be out for at least one month. Does Moody have the depth to simply ‘plug in and play’ when starters get hurt? That remains to be seen. If not, the Blue Devils may need to get creative to work around this injury.

Sylacauga’s strength is their offensive line – which is a huge front of beef with very good technique and good footwork. They have moved their opponents’ defenses around the field all this season, opening holes for their strong and athletic senior running back Jordan Ridgeway. Ridgeway shares duty with sophomore tailback Maleek Pope, who could run for over 250 combined yards if they catch Moody’s defense on their heels. This is where the game will be decided – Sylacauga’s running game against Moody’s defensive front.

Every team’s goal at the start of high school football season is to make the playoffs. To get there, Moody needs to accomplish a more modest goal first – beat a team from outside of the county. Looking down the Blue Devils schedule the opportunity for a regional wins outside of the county may be most opportune with this week’s collision with the Aggies.

Pell City Panthers at Gardendale Rockets

Pell City (1-2, 0-1) finds itself in a position this week that fits the theme of other matchups of other county teams. At first glance it appears Pell City is a team in trouble - on the road against an undefeated regional opponent as they try to find a path forward. The reality, however, is much more positive. This week is a great matchup for the Panthers – the first big opportunity in regional play for Coach Wayne Lee’s offense to stretch its legs, let loose, and collect first downs and points. Gardendale’s defense is good in the secondary but gives up lots of yards to good ground games; the Panthers’ offensive line led by senior JD Freeman should be up for the challenge, allowing senior quarterback Mitchell Gossett the time to run his read-option offense, get his running backs big opportunities, and pepper Gardendale’s defense with his accurate and effective quick-pass game. On intermediate and deep routes, Gardendale’s secondary breaks down on seam routes, which will be an exciting opportunity for senior wide receiver Jarrod Posey’s tall frame to grab some big catches over the top and show he is the best athlete on the field on Friday.

Candidly Pell City’s defense will be tested by Gardendale’s prolific offense. Coach Lee admitted in press interviews last week that tackling and technique on the defensive side of the ball was still a work in progress. Gardendale’s offense is led by Will “Goose” Crowder, the last of a long line of Crowder brothers who have done great things for previous Rockets teams. Crowder has the ability to throw over 300 yards and is fortunate to have talented wideouts in Chris Boone and tight end Bailey Parsons to target.

This is Pell City’s best opportunity to make a huge statement in the first half of the season. The key matchup of the Panthers’ offensive line and running game versus Gardendale’s defensive front will foretell Pell City’s fortunes. The Panthers are due for a big win, and they deserve one after all the work they put in during the off-season. It very may well come this week on the road and give Pell City a new reputation as giant killers.

Ragland Purple Devils vs. Talladega County Central

Advocates for the well-being of all the schools in St. Clair County should feel hopeful this week as the beloved 1A Ragland Purple Devils, a traditional powerhouse that has had their share of struggles this season, face off against Talladega County Central this week. TCC has had their own share of troubles, and are ripe to be picked off by a Ragland squad hungry for a win.

Improved play by Ragland quarterback Owen Schall and his ability to move downfield by throwing the ball to Nathaniel Kelley and Josh Phillips has now given running back Kentrell Turner opportunities to open up the running game and get Ragland’s offense toward the end zone. Ragland has been looking for an opportunity to stop the turnover bug and really show what their offense is capable of doing, and TCC is a perfect opponent to do just that.

The Tigers have a young offense led by an inexperienced quarterback in sophomore Jakendrick Tuck. Tuck has been described as very athletic, and it shows on game film, but before two weeks ago Tuck had never played in a football game. That kind of inexperience will lead to mistakes and delays on the field that the Purple Devils can exploit. TCC also has defensive troubles. Surrendering 108 points in the last two games means that the Purple Devils should have no trouble moving the ball down the field.

Ragland’s second victory will come if they do what they know they can do and hold on tight to the football. If the defense confuses Tuck and the offense protects the football, Ragland should check off their first win this Friday.

Springville Tigers at Central Clay County Volunteers

The Tigers football team are off to their best start in years, cranking out two opening victories before stumbling last week against Sylacauga – and their performance against the Aggies was a valiant effort. They may have lost, but they still played well and made a good accounting of themselves. Now they go on the road to face Central-Clay.

The reigning 5A state champions and clear favorite to win Class 5A Region 5 are dominant once again in 2019. They opened the season with two road wins against very good 6A opposition (Benjamin Russell) and a very good Munford squad, winning by an average of 23 points per game. They now host Springville, a proud group of coaches and young men that have played as well as they can and at moments played above their expected abilities. This coming game, however, is a whole different kind of opponent.

Featured Springville running back Kobye Payton and his offensive line need to average three yards per carry on Friday, which they won’t be able to do if the gaps are closed and he is bounced to the perimeter. Clay Central defenses have been doing exactly that for years. If Springville’s running game can open up cracks for Payton, there is the opportunity for Tigers quarterback Pearson Baldwin to find Jace Hayes and other targets with quicks, slants and hot routes – but will have to contend with the Volunteers’ linebackers who have crazy-fast closing speed.

Even though Clay Central graduated a lot of skill players from last year’s squad, the Volunteers have pivoted to quarterback Philip Ogles and tailback Quentin Knight who will give the Tigers’ defense fits this week. It would be great to see a Springville defensive standout like John Raby key on Ogles while the rest of the interior finds a way to contain Knight.

Defensively, Clay Central is led by Davion Phillips at defensive end, who has been heavily recruited by FBS colleges. The Volunteers also have a solid linebacking corps led by Jaidarrius McNealey who returns this year after an injury and appears to have regained all the speed and quickness that made him such a force before he got hurt.

It’s frustrating to see the young men of Springville - a team so deserving of a signature victory after all the improvements and sacrifices they have made – line up against the Volunteers. Springville will get their big upset sooner rather than later. But on the road against this team? Maybe next time.

St. Clair County Saints at Mortimer Jordan Blue Devils

Something strange is happening in Kimberly, Alabama.

Powerhouse Mortimer Jordan is playing unevenly and uncharacteristically. Their all-world quarterback Kourtlan Marsh, who was a wrecking machine last year, has foundered and has been patchy with his passing game. The Blue Devils sit at 1-2 after a humbling regional loss at Center Point last week. Normally this would put a smile on the fans of any opposition coming the Blue Devils’ way. At St. Clair County High School however, there are still things to iron out before feasting on Mortimer Jordan’s misfortune.

Searching for good news to deliver to Odenville has been a bit elusive so far this season. It is a little maddening to take a long look at the Saints as they run out on the field – they are so darn athletic! – then look at the final scoreboards each week and try to avoid scratching one’s head. Coach Dampeer is a smart, innovative coach and proven winner. Quarterback Cade Golden continues to show flashes of brilliance. Playmakers Micah Gilbert, Josh Ruff, and Jackson Lindsay have the speed and moves to make any defense look silly. Opportunistic defensive players like Landon Whitehead and Jalin Henderson are big-play capable defenders.

St. Clair County is a capable, promising team that is tying itself into knots. The Mortimer Jordan Blue Devils are a talented, playoff-level squad that is underperforming and playing a confused game. When these two teams face off on Friday one it is likely one will right their ship and the other will continue to struggle. Hoping for a Fighting Saints bounce-back this week.

Victory Christian Lions vs. Appalachian Eagles

Victory Christian has found themselves a stupendous opportunity to throw down the gauntlet and make a stand for their 2019 season. After beating Gaylesville last week, they face the Cinderella story of Class 1A football. Lowly Appalachian, after stumbling through a miserable 1-9 season in 2018 have exploded onto the scene, beating the respectable 2A Southeastern in their opener, then demolished Coosa Christian by a score of 49-19 and Talladega County Central 44-6 last week.

The Lions have the players to upset Appalachian. Lee Yeager is positioned to have a breakout year as Victory Christian’s featured back and Coach Breland’s defense is gelling just at the right time. The one bugaboo the Lions’ must stop doing is turning the ball over. The Lions do that with the Eagles, then it will be lights out.

Victory Christian’s defense must stop the running and receiving prowess of the Eagles’ Gabe Smith, The senior wide receiver has been a four year starter for Appalachian, and is peaking in performance and results right now. The Eagles also have a big boulder of a fullback in Alex Heard, who can carry players down the field and tack on yards after contact consistently through the game. Defensively Appalachian has a good front supported by linebacker Isaac Duarte, their best defender.

Appalachian’s patience has paid off. They have experienced players who have been through bad season after bad season. Now they are poised to take off. For Victory Christian, this is a challenge and not a deterrent. The Lions are just as capable physically and mentally as Appalachian, so the wide margins of victory enjoyed by the Eagles should not intimidate the boys at Victory Christian; it should motivate them.

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