Home-field advantage is nothing short of a big road block at certain local football stadiums.
It’s a well-known, and it’s rarely hidden. If away teams aren’t having enough of a problem with the team that occupies the home sideline, they also get to deal with thousands of screaming, passionate fans, as well.
Calhoun County and the surrounding area are filled with football-crazy fans. It comes from traditional success succeeding and the desire to continue winning big.
It’s a culture.
Having that culture means many folks have plans to watch some football most Fridays during the fall and early winter. The stands are packed for home games, and some fans even make hour-long trips to support their team on the road.
That type of fanbase, added with the pure talent of a good home team, can make a venue feared and nearly impossible to overcome. Even a visiting team takes away a victory, it could be a while until it happens again.
Here’s a list of the five toughest local places to play:
1. Field of Champions, Piedmont
It’s going on the five-year anniversary of the Bulldogs’ 2009 run to winning the Class 3A state championship, and since then, they’ve been awfully hard to beat at home.
Over the last four years, Piedmont has lost only two games at the Field of Champions, while boasting 27 home victories in that span. The two losses came in the postseason, including in the semifinals to Hamilton in 2010 and quarterfinals to Madison Academy last year. Since head coach Steve Smith took over in 2006, Piedmont has recorded a 46-7 mark at home.
Both of the teams that won at Piedmont in the past four years advanced to the state finals.
2. Lou Scales Stadium, Alexandria
Before arriving in Alexandria, visitors already know they’re heading into a place known as “Death Valley.” Although that tag is used far and wide, including at LSU and Clemson, Alexandria has made the nickname stick on a smaller level.
The Valley Cubs missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2002. During that 11-year run, they made four trips to the Class 4A semifinals. Oh, by the way, those were in four straight seasons.
Lou Scales Stadium is home to valley dogs, three state championships and opponents’ worst nightmares.
Two years ago provided quite an example of how well Alexandria plays at home. The Valley Cubs won their last four games in 4A, Region 5 to take the title. The final two games — Jacksonville and runner-up Lincoln — were at home. Alexandria held both to seven points each in the wins.
3. Volunteer Stadium, Clay Central
Clay Central’s program is still young and its history is short, but the Volunteers have seen their share of success at home and then some. The Volunteers, whose stadium doesn’t have an official name, have dominated over the last two years and hold an 11-2 record at home.
Interestingly enough, the two home losses, which both came this past season, came to Madison Academy, which won the Class 3A state title, and Charles Henderson, which reached the Class 4A state championship game.
The Volunteers’ move to 5A this year should only elevate the crowd. In a football-crazy county, most people make the trip to Clay Central on Friday nights and fill the large grandstand on the home side. The noisy crowd and the talented team have proven a tall task for visiting teams.
4. The Hill, Wellborn
No place lives football like the community of Wellborn. Even when it’s not football season, fans are discussing Panthers football. And when Wellborn has a home game, fans have the stands and fence line full. To borrow the example Wellborn head coach Jeff Smith once used, it’s like Friday Night Lights.
Wellborn, which is working on a five-year playoff streak, provides a venue where every fan should see a high school football game at least once. Ultimately, The Hill is home to an old-school, smash-mouth football team. While the facilities have been upgraded over the years, it hasn’t lost the personality that the older fans will recognize.
5. Lamar Field, Oxford
A lot can be said about Yellow Jackets’ home games, but maybe the most important piece of information is this — you need to be at Lamar Field about 30 minutes before games or you won’t have a seat on the home side.
Oxford games provide the largest crowds you’re going to see in the area, and there’s a good reason for it. The Yellow Jackets have been nothing short of terrific on the field for the last several decades. Since 1980, they have made the playoffs 30 times, including winning the Class 5A state championships in 1988, 1989 and 1993.
With Oxford native Ryan Herring, who was the quarterback for the 1993 championship team, entering this second season as head coach for the Yellow Jackets, there’s a lot of buzz around Lamar Field again this year — no pun intended.
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.