Pell City Panthers

The Pell City Panthers beat Fort Payne 21-14 in their first game of the season last Friday. Photo by U. Glidewell

Last Week’s scores

Ashville 15, Ragland 6

Sylacauga 56, Leeds 10

Pell City 21, Fort Payne 17

St. Clair Co. 45, John Carroll 0

Hayden 21, Springville 15

Ashville Bulldogs (1-0) vs. Springville Tigers (0-1)

Ashville, fresh off of a victory against Ragland, head to Springville this week, who are still feeling the sting of an overtime loss against a Hayden squad that was against the ropes all game.

The Springville Tigers’ offensive identity will be centered on running back Bradlee Cole. He has emerged as the consistent go-to back on first downs and short yardage situations. Ashville’s defense that showed a lot of fire in the first week of the season would be well served by keying on the Tigers’ primary weapon.

What is very concerning is Springville’s passing attack. Whether it is inconsistent route running, miscommunications, dropped balls or any other reason, a three year starter like Austin Hutcheson should never have a game in which he completes only 33 percent of his passes and throws two interceptions (as he did last week). When Hutcheson connects with his receivers it can have lethal consequences for the opponent, but this inconsistent play last Thursday translated to twelve wasted )or worse) offensive plays. This has to be fixed immediately for Springville to have any success this year.

Bulldogs head coach Barry Simmons has a game plan that suits its talent. Ashville has their own go-to running back in Ty Armstrong, who should be expected to run the ball 25 – 30 times this week against the Tigers. Ashville thrives on misdirection with speed sweeps, zone runs and off-guard power runs. The Bulldogs suck defenses into the box to stop this attack, so when Ashville takes one of its few passes downfield, it results in huge gains. Springville’s defense needs to bottle up primary running back LaDarious Spikes and quarterback Adrian Hernandez. Look for the Tigers to cover Ashville’s receivers with tight man-to-man except on third downs or when the ball is at midfield, where a two-shell would be effective containing one of the few passing situations Ashville may use to pull the trigger.

Leeds Green Wave (0-1) vs. John Carroll Cavaliers (0-1)

Leeds will need to shake off its loss against Sylacauga last week and expect much better things as it hosts John Carroll for the Green Wave’s home opener.

Leeds will be focusing on ball control this week after opening the season with a slew of turnovers and mental mistakes. The Green Wave’s coaching staff have worked on these issues at practice this week, and will be prepared to take advantage of a team with much bigger issues than Leeds.

John Carroll’s team is very young and inexperienced. Its shutout loss last week against St. Clair County exposed a team that is plagued by blown assignments, sloppy passing routes, and an offense that is turnover-prone.

Leeds platoon of running backs led by junior Jakobi Hunter will be able to unleash and run all over the Cavaliers’ porous defense. The Green Wave should also open up its passing attack to get some success under its belt against a secondary that repeatedly blew assignments and got caught on their heels last week.

Defensively Leeds just needs to get a consistent push on John Carroll’s offensive line. The Cavaliers have a serviceable running back in freshman Aaron Mason, but he is pretty much all they have. Leeds needs to do pretty much one thing – trip up the Cavaliers’ running game to take the ‘W.’

Moody Blue Devils (0-0) @ Etowah Co. (1-0)

Moody opens up the season on the road against a monster – No. 2 ranked Etowah County and its stable of FBS-bound seniors will be the tallest of tall orders for first year coach Adam Wallace.

After a 2017 campaign in which Etowah finished with a 9-1 regular season record and advanced to the quarterfinal round in Class 5A playoffs, Etowah head coach Drew Noles has put the band back together and is back for another state championship run.

Moody’s opponent is loaded. Offensively they play spread, with the most effective weapon in senior wide receiver Emil Smith, who is a three star recruit being pursued by ten FBS schools including South Alabama and UAB. Moody’s defensive secondary will have to be on it’s A-game to contain Smith’s quick speed sweeps and neutralize his ability of getting great separation and catching deep passes high at its peak.

Moody will rely on its running attack and beefy offensive line to find a rhythm this Friday. At first glance one would think it would be near impossible. Etowah’s defense is astonishingly good, led by Auburn commitment senior linebacker Jamin Graham and senior middle linebacker Carter Dingler. Etowah does have some issues up front, however, and there are running lanes that will open in holes 3-6. Moody will need to hit those running holes fast to avoid getting blown up by speedy edge rusher Alex Howard, who is Etowah’s best pass rusher. When Moody quarterback Karson Buckner goes to the air, he needs to stick with slants and quick passing, and keep the ball away from Vanderbilt commitment senior CB Justin Harris, who has lightning-fast closing speed.

 

Pell City Panthers (1-0) vs. Calera (0-1)

Following a thrilling come from behind victory last week, Pell City goes on the road to play a Calera team filled with talented athletes and hungry for a win after losing last week in a competitive game with Class 6 powerhouse Pelham.

The pleasantly surprising performance of Pell City quarterback Mitchell Gossett last week has now put a spotlight on the Panthers’ passing attack. Expect Gossett’s favorite target Jarod Posey shadowed by Eagles’ junior cornerback Trenton Yowe, a Misssissippi State commitment who will take away Posey’s high point with his  6’1” frame. The Panthers running game led by Darrius Garrett will have to see what they can exploit on the edges because opportunities are limited in the middle since it will be clogged up by four star Alabama commitment defensive tackle Jayson Jones. At 6’5” and 322 lbs, Jones will collapse the ‘A’ gap on both sides of center and restrict the interior running game of the Panthers.

Calera head coach Andrew Zow has a protégé he has been coaching up for the past two seasons so Pell City must find a way to defend against senior quarterback Cornelius Brown IV, a pro-style quarterback who will be playing for Vanderbilt next year. Brown has several excellent receivers in seniors Dee Woodson and Tyler Ray along with junior wide receiver Quindarius Crews, who had a breakout performance against Pelham. Calera plays a ‘pass to set up the run’ scheme, opening up running lanes for Brown and standout running back Tyler Ray. If Pell City manages to go on the road and win against this squad, it would be a very big feather in Coach Wayne Lee’s cap.

 

Ragland Purple Devils (0-1) @ Westbrook Christian (1-0)

Ragland’s struggles last week against Ashville will be followed up by a road matchup against a senior loaded, talented Class 2A Warrior team fresh off of a 35-6 thrashing over Coosa Christian.

Ragland’s defensive secondary, which gave up two big pass plays last week against an opponent that threw the ball only three times, will now be facing Warrior quarterback Jackson Cox, who threw the football all over the place last week, resulting in three touchdown passes and nearly 180 yards of offense.

Ragland faces challenges this week and is an underdog. Westbrook Christian is a balanced attack with a strong running attack led by tailback Hunter Grimes, coupled with the aforementioned passing attack. The Warriors shut out their first opponent to late into the fourth quarter, so Ragland can’t afford to have a slow start like last week. The Purple Devils need to match scoring opportunities early on and stay close or this could go south very quickly.

 

St. Clair County Saints (1-0) @ Cherokee County (0-0)                                                               

The sixth-ranked St. Clair County Saints roared into the season by shutting out an outmatched John Carroll squad last week. This Friday, Coach Matt Glover’s squad travel to Cherokee County to take on the Warriors.

Cherokee County should prove themselves to be a worthy opponent. Warrior quarterback Caden Hubbard runs a spread offense, and at 6’3” and 185 pounds, he looks like he was cast for quarterback out of central casting. Possessing a great delivery on intermediate pass routes and nimble feet, Hubbard also plays defense, accounting for 65 tackles and six quarterback sacks last season.

Hubbard will be protected by Cherokee’s big O-line anchored by senior tackles Will McKinney and Chase Bailey. The Saints’ secondary will want to put their best man on Hubbard’s favorite target, wide receiver Julian Latty.

St. Clair’s running attack led by Braxton Ragland should find a lot of success off-guard. They will have to contend with senior noseguard Clark Oliphant and his 300+ pound frame, but the Warriors are vulnerable of being gashed on the outer edges of their defensive line. St. Clair quarterback Cade Golden should be aware of the very effective free safety Austin Pruett, but the Saints passer should still find the Warriors secondary wanting and should be able to effectively throw downfield. St. Clair will face a manageable test on Friday and ring up its second win.

Victory Christian Lions (0-0) @ Fayetteville (0-1)                     

Fayetteville has impressive offensive talent. Junior quarterback Blake Machen has plenty of assets to go to in his multiple offense. Senior slot receiver Jon Dalton Pate is Machen’s favorite target on short and intermediate routes, coupled with senior tight end Zach Roberts, a 6’3” target that will likely stretch the Lions’ linebackers and safeties. Machen has a great read-option threat in his own legs along with senior speedster running back Daurian Cook, who has a low center of gravity and runs through D-lines like a boulder.

Victory Christian is excited about starting its season, but it will be tested by this talented Fayetteville squad. If the Lions are competitive in this matchup, it bodes well for the regional schedule coming up.

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