Well, we can dream about the 2020 football season, can’t we?
Unless the COVID-19 pandemic forces local school boards to say otherwise — and boards in Green and Sumter counties have — the Alabama High School Athletic Association has said the season will kick off on time.
Operating under that assumption, let’s play like musicians on the Titanic. Let’s lose ourselves in preseason hype.
Calhoun County’s 12 football-playing schools have collectively produced one of the most intriguing slates of non-region games in some time. From a rich and deep slate of county-vs.-county games, reminiscent of old days, to attractive clashes of local powers and powers elsewhere, fans have lots of reasons to pay attention to non-region games.
A three-way tiebreaker based on non-region games decided our area’s powerhouse Class 3A region the past two seasons. These are the early-, middle- and late-season games that could have us all counting back in late October:
County vs. County
There was a time, before the playoff era, when Calhoun County rivalries powered Friday night lights around here. This season brings something of a revival.
The 4A region involving Anniston, Jacksonville and White Plains will have all of those schools playing each other. Same for the 3A region featuring Ohatchee, Piedmont, Pleasant Valley, Saks, Weaver and Wellborn.
All of those county-on-county games will come with region implications.
But schools in the county outdid themselves this season in scheduling each other for non-region games, and not just the standard rivalry games, like Alexandria-Jacksonville.
—Anniston-Wellborn: This helmet game extraordinaire awakens a previous glory period in county football. Both teams reached the state semifinals last season, Anniston in 4A and Wellborn in 3A.
Anniston leads the all-time series 17-15-1, and they’ll play for the first time since 1999. The Aug. 21 game marks the season-opener for both teams.
Wouldn’t it be great to see Mike Battles and Rodney Bivens recognized at halftime?
—Piedmont-Alexandria: Another clash of traditional powers has Piedmont going to Alexandria on Oct. 30. Piedmont is the reigning 3A champion and a four-time champion under 15-year head coach Steve Smith, and Alexandria has reached the second round of the 5A playoffs both years under current head coach Todd Ginn, son of late hall-of-famer Larry Ginn.
Alexandria leads the all-time series 39-10-4, and they last played in 1993.
—Piedmont-Jacksonville: These two teams will face off for the third time in as many years after taking a 21-year break. Both teams made last season’s Super 7, with Jacksonville finishing as 4A runner-up.
—Ohatchee-Anniston: Speaking of long time/no see, Anniston will play host to Ohatchee on Aug. 28, marking the second game ever between the schools and first since the 1953 Turkey Bowl, which Anniston won 27-7.
Anniston stands resurgent under third-year coach Rico White, and seventh-year Ohatchee coach Scott Martin has made the Indians a playoff and rankings regular in the past four seasons. They made the 3A semifinals in 2016.
—Pleasant Valley-White Plains: These two programs have faced plenty, with White Plains holding a 20-14 edge, but haven’t played in five years. With five combined playoff appearances, both teams itch to break from their molds. Pleasant Valley has come one win short of the playoffs each of the past two years, with back-to-back 5-5 finishes under sixth-year head coach Jonathan Nix. White Plains showed progress under first-year coach Chandler Tyree in 2019, going 3-7 and posting its largest win total since a 5-5 finish in 2013.
Could this be a tiebreaker game for one of these schools?
—Donoho joins fray: As the lone 1A program in the county, Donoho doesn’t often play its higher-classified county teams. The Falcons have played 40 games against the county’s current football-playing schools, going a combined 14-26 against Ohatchee, Pleasant Valley and White Plains.
The Falcons are 8-1 against Jacksonville Christian, which last played varsity football in 2016.
Donoho last played a Calhoun County-based team not named Jacksonville Christian when the Falcons lost to White Plains in 2009.
This season, Donoho will open at Pleasant Valley on Aug, 21 and host to White Plains on Aug. 28. The games give the Falcons a chance to spar against 3A and 4A competition, respectively.
County vs. non-county
—Oxford goes big: Reigning 6A champion Oxford went big on its non-region schedule. Second-year coach Keith Etheredge expressed a desire to upgrade the Yellow Jackets’ non-region slate, and reclassification left Oxford with a weak region, forcing Etheredge to go as big as possible to breathe sufficient playoff preparation into their schedule.
The Yellow Jackets’ season-opener at Thompson ranks as one of the state’s most attractive non-region matchups. Including Thompson’s Mark Freeman, the game also pits the 6A and 7A champions and 2019 coaches of the year in both classifications.
Oxford will finish the regular season at home, against 7A runner-up Central-Phenix City. New Central coach Patrick Nix will no doubt want to avenge Oxford’s two victories over Pinson Valley last season, including their 6A semifinal showdown.
Oxford’s non-region schedule also features 5A runner-up Pleasant Grove and nearby 7A rival Gadsden City.
—Anniston-Center Point: Anniston showed its desire to play strong non-region competition with games against Catholic-Montgomery and American Christian each of the past two seasons, and Center Point will test the Bulldogs at Lott-Mosby Stadium on Sept. 25. The 5A Eagles reached the 2019 quarterfinals before falling to Mortimer Jordan and made the second round in 2018.
—Jacksonville-St. John Paul II: A season-opener at home marks a rematch of a second-round playoff game last season. The Golden Eagles won 56-22 while romping to the 4A finals.
—Piedmont-Cherokee County: This natural border war pits Smith’s current employer and his alma mater. Cherokee County leads the series 37-36-3, but the two schools haven’t played since 2017. Smith said he wants Piedmont and Cherokee County to play each other every year possible.
—Wellborn-Hamilton: Wellborn goes to Hamilton in a Sept. 25 game that tests the Panthers against a 4A team that made the 5A playoffs last season. Wellborn coach Jeff Smith will match wits with Barry Peoples, Hamilton’s first-year coach who went 80-59 between 1993 and 2005 at Marion County.
—Alexandria-Cleburne County: Alexandria holds a 45-19-1 lead in a long-standing rivalry. The Valley Cubs have won the last six meetings, dating back to 2012.
—Ohatchee’s play-up games: Ohatchee’s play-up games in recent years include two against Leeds, both of which the Indians won. Back up in 3A this season, Ohatchee will spar with 4A Cleburne County on Aug. 21 and 4A Munford on Oct. 30, with both games at home. Both games will bring second-year head coaches to town after their years of success as assistants at strong programs. Joby Burns came to Cleburne County after helping Clay Central win a state title, and Munford’s Michael Easley helped Saks to several strong seasons.
—Saks’ tests: Looking to rebound from an injury-wrecked season, Saks will open with home games against Sylvania and Talladega. Sylvania is a playoff regular and made the 3A quarterfinals in 2017. Talladega, up to 5A after winning a game in the 4A playoffs last season, comes with second-year head coach Shannon Felder, who went 67-54 with eight playoff appearances in 11 seasons as Donoho’s head coach.
Non-region 2020 high school football games for Calhoun County’s 12 football-playing schools:
Alexandria vs. Jacksonville, Aug, 28
Alexandria at Cleburne County, Sept. 25
Alexandria vs. Piedmont, Oct. 30
Anniston at Wellborn, Aug. 21
Anniston vs. Ohatchee, Aug. 28
Anniston vs. Center Point, Sept. 25
Donoho at Pleasant Valley, Aug. 21
Donoho vs. White Plains, Aug. 28
Donoho at Westbrook Christian, Oct. 30
Jacksonville vs. St. John Paul II, Aug. 21
Jacksonville at Alexandria, Aug, 28
Jacksonville at Piedmont, Sept. 25
Ohatchee vs. Cleburne County, Aug. 21
Ohatchee at Anniston, Aug, 28
Ohatchee vs. Munford, Oct. 30
Oxford at Thompson, Aug. 22
Oxford at Pleasant Grove, Aug. 28
Oxford vs. Gadsden City, Sept. 25
Oxford vs. Central-Phenix City, Oct. 30
Piedmont at Cherokee County, Aug. 28
Piedmont vs. Jacksonville, Sept. 25
Piedmont at Alexandria, Oct. 30
Pleasant Valley vs. Donoho, Aug., 21
Pleasant Valley at West End-Walnut Grove, Aug. 28
Pleasant Valley at White Plains, Oct. 30
Saks vs. Sylvania, Aug. 21
Saks vs. Talladega, Aug. 28
Weaver at Douglas, Aug. 21
Weaver at Armuchee, Ga., Sept. 25
Weaver vs. Ashville, Oct. 30
Wellborn vs. Anniston, Aug. 21
Wellborn at Hamilton, Sept. 25
White Plains vs. Ranburne, Aug. 21
White Plains at Donoho, Aug, 28
White Plains at Elmore County, Sept. 25
White Plains vs. Pleasant Valley, Oct. 30