John Hughes offers his insights and opinions on this week’s local high school football games. For more on this week’s games.
Last week’s results
Victory Christian 67 Coosa Christian 38
Moody 41 Shelby County 20
Springville 44 Crossville 14
West End Walnut Grove 47 Ragland 20
Ohatchee 48 Leeds 7
Ashville Bulldogs vs. Hokes Bluff Eagles
Ashville is back home this week with vengeance on its mind to take on a region rival that beat the Bulldogs 52-0 last season. This year, Ashville faces a much-changed Eagles’ squad, which is an unpredictable, inconsistent mystery from week to week; a team that has run hot one Friday, then ice cold the next through the first half of the season. This inconsistency occurs on both sides of the ball, either blowing out opponents or limping off the field in disarray. Ashville will be looking for a great week of preparation for itself before finding out whether Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde gets off that bus from Hokes Bluff.
Ashville’s early defensive start will be a key factor this Friday. The Bulldogs’ defensive front needs to exploit the Hokes Bluff offensive line (which has been outmaneuvered repeatedly this year with fast defensive ends) and cut off the running lanes from the very talented Eagles running back Darrian Meads and their fleet-footed quarterback Ashton Gulledge, who have combined for over 800 yards of rushing this season. The Bulldogs’ outstanding linebacker Luke Harris will have to play double duty this week disrupting the Eagles’ running game while looking out for the sure-handed Hokes Bluff tight end Tristin Billingsley, who rubs into the grass at the second level and catches a lot of hot routes. Ashville needs to neutralize the Eagles’ effective mix of running and short-passing game that has been used in all three of their wins this season.
Ashville’s offense has the athletes and the experience to score on Hokes Bluff if it executes its playbook from start to finish — something that has been awesome to see when the Bulldogs have put it all together in games earlier this season. The Hokes Bluff defense has a great pass rusher and edge man in defensive end Tucker Marsh, so the Bulldogs’ offense will likely lean in the other direction where there is a bit of a fall-off in talent.
Ashville wants a fast start, but not a horse race — that is the exact game the Eagles would want. On paper Ashville is a slight underdog, but controlling the ball, controlling the clock and controlling the type of game Hokes Bluff can execute would even out this game and give Ashville a solid shot at victory.
Leeds Green Wave vs. Talladega Tigers
The realignment of regions and classifications last year gave Leeds a great new region rival in 4A-4 when Talladega joined the region. Talladega has finished the first half of the season with a 3-2 record and its traditional reputation intact as a team that can move the ball down the field on offense but struggles mightily in stopping opponents when on defense.
If the Green Wave can bounce back from last week, then it is in for a track meet this Friday. The Tigers have some strong, athletic skill players, led by the flashy dual-threat playmaking quarterback Nigel Scales, who has been brilliant against lesser opponents, but bottled up and neutralized by better defenses like Munford and Lincoln. Leeds’ secondary will be tested this week — Talladega has two good receivers in Michael McGregor and Chris Burney. The Green Wave’s defensive coaches are going to have to come up with a way to cover both sides of the field in the 10-20 yard passing zone, which the receiving duo from Talladega has been very good at exploiting this year.
As for Talladega’s defense, the Green Wave has the weapons to get after this group who have shown a tendency of disintegrating in the second half of games. The Green Wave either must jump out to an early lead or keep it close until the fourth quarter, then show off the endurance and conditioning that coach Jerry Hood has instilled in his team. Throughout the game, Talladega’s defense makes mistakes on assignments and coverages, and at the end of the game, they have shown they get gassed. Leeds can outlast this rival on Friday.
Moody Blue Devils @ Munford Lions
At 3-3 this season, Munford is a middle-of-the-pack team that has an established track record of beating the teams it is supposed to and losing to the powers in Class 5A. Which one is Moody? After the impressive shellacking the Blue Devils put down on Shelby County last week, it is anyone’s guess. One thing that isn’t a guess is that Moody is traveling to play a potent region opponent.
Studying game film in the fieldhouse, it is a safe bet that every coach and every player on Moody’s team has had their attention grabbed by Munford’s best athlete, senior Rodricous Dorman, who plays as a multi-purpose back on offense and leads the defensive secondary playing cornerback. Last week Moody’s defense put on a clinic — it will need to do so again this week to bottle up quarterback Jay Tuck, who features a very quick, accurate throwing motion and an elusiveness that gains big yards when the receivers are shut down. Moody’s secondary has shown a lot of growth and elevated its game this year, which seems to have come just in the nick of time knowing it has to deal with a deep-threat headache in Lions’ senior wide receiver LJ Flint.
Moody’s prolific running game has proven itself this year, and its passing attack is coming along. A repeat of last week’s performance would be timely considering how Munford’s defense has wilted against strong offenses. Led by senior linebacker Justin Sistrunk, the Lions’ defense has good run stoppers, but has been burned by quarterbacks who are in the zone on short and medium routes.
Moody turned an important corner this week — it showed it can dominate an opponent. Munford will not be dominated, but Moody can compete … and can win this week.
Pell City Panthers vs. Etowah Blue Devils
Another daunting challenge awaits Pell City at home this week as it welcomes undefeated Etowah into Pete Rich Stadium this Friday.
Last season was a defensive slugfest between an inspired Panthers team and the Blue Devils, who boasted an identical 6-0 record in this matchup, with Etowah prevailing 8-6. Despite the loss, Pell City’s defense completely defanged an explosive Etowah team loaded with college-bound stars. It was thrilling to watch the Panthers play above themselves last year in their best performance of 2018. Another inspiring performance will be needed this year, because this season’s Blue Devils are once again a perfect 6-0, ranked #4 in the ASWA Class 5A state rankings, and have been an offensive juggernaut all year, averaging nearly 44 points per game.
Pell City would love to have a good outing from senior quarterback Mitchell Gossett. He has shown great execution this year when he shredded Calera’s defense early this season. Gossett will need help from standout players like wide receiver Ian Crow and all-purpose back Keton Seals to challenge the Blue Devils defense and put themselves in position for an upset win. It is time for another ‘above-their-ability’ performance like last year’s effort.
Etowah’s offense is led by an exciting trio of backs — quarterback Brady Troup is a versatile, run-first play caller supported by the very talented pair of running backs in Martavious and Trent Davis. Stopping those two will be a very big ask for Pell City’s interior that has gotten much better at stopping rushing offenses as the season has progressed. The Panthers’ third level will also have to contend with a pair of very effective wideouts in Devin Laster (#23) and Ollie Finch (#4).
Pell City’s senior leadership will be a huge factor this Friday. First, to get the young guys in the right mind frame to prepare for a favored opponent; second, to calm the team down if there is early adversity. Coach Wayne Lee has been very good at maturing his team for big moments — that preparation will pay off this week.
Ragland Purple Devils @ Appalachian Eagles
Last year’s run-in with Appalachian was a very pleasant affair for the Purple Devils when they crushed the Eagles 56-7. That Appalachian team is gone, and a playoff-caliber team with a 5-1 record now lines up against Ragland.
The Purple Devils have proven this season that they can compete. That confidence must be brought into this game because Appalachian will have a high level of confidence in itself, especially on offense. The Eagles’ most reliable ball carrier is Alex Heard, who is a classic ‘banger’ who piles up yards after contact. Appalachian’s big-play ability is possible through its best player, wide receiver/cornerback Gabe Smith. The senior has been a four-year starter for Appalachian and its leading scorer. Ragland’s chances for winning will depend on how well their offense does against the Eagles’ suspect defense. Appalachian does deploy a good defensive front supported by linebacker Isaac Duarte, their best defender. A look at points surrendered this year in some of Appalachian’s games points to the fact that the Eagles have a vulnerability on defense.
The fact remains that Ragland is an underdog this week. The fact also remains that this is an intense rivalry game — and often the unexpected happens in rivalry games. Ragland will be hungry, and that along with some fortunate breaks may lead to a favorable outcome.
Springville Tigers @ Center Point Eagles
Springville is coming off its most dominant performance of the season after dismantling Crossville at homecoming. Now the Tigers return to region play against their region’s leader at Center Point.
The Eagles continue to dominate the region and are off to their best start in a decade, and there is little reason to expect any kind of drop in performance. Center Point features a legendary leader in head coach George Bates, who has developed star players like quarterback Javon Davis, who has thrown for over 200 yards and two touchdowns per game. Center Point’s best athlete and most recruited player is cornerback Jayson Jones, who is one of the three best all-around athletes in the region and is being heavily recruited by several FBS schools. Another player who is getting attention from a lot of college scouts is linebacker Noah Steen, a fierce run stopper with great range to drop into coverage and disrupt slants and crossing routes.
Springville’s offense came roaring to life lately, and it would be great to see their continued improvement … but Center Point is a beast. Springville can’t afford a drop in production — they need all guns blazing to compete this week.
St. Clair County Saints vs. Sylacauga Aggies
The Saints’ rebuilding project comes up against another formidable foe this week. The Sylacauga Aggies are having a great season, boasting a 5-1 record and outscoring their opponents 212-113 with four games remaining.
St. Clair’s defensive front faces off against the best offensive line they will see all year. Sylacauga’s O-line is huge, balanced and well-coached. Game film shows they get a great initial push on every running play, which open up big holes for their running backs to gash through. The Aggies’ featured back is Jordan Ridgeway, who is approaching 800 yards rushing and has scored 10 touchdowns this season. Ridgeway trades off hand-offs with sophomore tailback Maleek Pope, a young speedster that could develop into Sylacauga’s best running back since the 1990s, and Golinsky Smith.
The Saints begin a brutal three-game stretch before finishing their region schedule at county- rival Springville. Brooks Dampeer is working to rebuild a winner, and these are the times that test young men’s souls. St. Clair’s offense continues to work to find a way to generate points, and its defense will be tested once more. A good showing at home would be a morale booster for all in Odenville.
Victory Christian Lions @ Winterboro Bulldogs
What a great year to be in and around the Victory Christian football program. Steady improvement week in and week out led to the Lions’ breakout performance scoring 67 points and thoroughly dominating Coosa Christian last week. Bruce Breland’s team looked outstanding on both sides of the ball last week and appears ready to barnstorm through the rest of the season.
Victory Christian’s season hinges on the next two games, both on the road. Before Spring Garden on October 11th, the Lions travel to Winterboro to take on the 4-2 Bulldogs. This game promises to be the best matchup, player for player, this season.
Victory Christian has all-purpose back Lee Yeager — his counterpart for Winterboro is Jay James, a relentless tailback with great lateral movement and speed when he needs it. James backs up the always reliable Brody Hamm in the backfield, who is usually good for 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns every week. Both backs run behind what may be the best offensive line in the region, featuring tackles Darius Middlebrooks, Brandon Dandridge and Jay Garrett.
Ideally, Victory Christian rides the crest off last week’s big win and beats its next two opponents. At the very least, the Lions’ playoff hopes rest on a split of their next two games, followed by a run against Donoho and Talladega County Central. A win this week virtually clinches one of the scenarios and a playoff berth.