The playoffs are underway in Alabama high school football. Let’s get right to the storylines:
1. Anniston momentum
Anniston (6-4) has won four games in a row headed into its first playoff game since 2015. The Bulldogs have assured themselves their first winning season since 2011, and there’s energy around the Anniston football community.
The Bulldogs go to Deshler (5-5) looking for their first playoff win since 2011, and the Tigers are better than their record shows. One of their losses was a 65-0 rout of Elkmont that turned into a forfeit because of an ineligible player. Their only other loss to 4A competition was to third-ranked Brooks, who won their region.
2. Tally ho, Donoho
Another energy center is Donoho (8-2), which has its best season since 2014. The Falcons have won five games in a row and will play their first home playoff game since 2014. Their victories this season include routs of two 2A teams, Horseshoe Bend and Woodland.
Donoho plays Coosa Christian (7-3), the third seed in a strong 1A region that includes seventh-ranked Falkville and R.A. Hubbard. Coosa’s other loss this season was to 2A Westbrook Christian.
3. Oxford’s familiar foe
Oxford (8-2) goes to Hazel Green (4-6) as the third seed in arguably 6A’s strongest region, a different place for the Jackets, who dominated a weaker region the past two years. Battling Pinson Valley and Clay-Chalkville has steeled the Yellow Jackets, which have linebacker and LSU commit Kendall McCallum back in action after he missed time while undergoing tests on his heart. His missed time included Oxford’s loss at Clay-Chalkville.
In a script flip, Oxford’s opponent comes from the weaker region, and Jackets’ offensive coordinator Will Wagnon was Hazel Green’s head coach 2016-17. Oxford assistant Justin Bowen was on Wagnon’s staff.
4. Alexandria’s Ginn effect?
Fourth-ranked Madison Academy (9-1) would seem to be a big favorite, hosting its playoff opener against Alexandria (6-4), but don’t be surprised to see a closer-than-expected game.
The Valley Cubs have known for a couple of weeks that Madison Academy was their likely playoff opponent, which means first-year Alexandria coach Todd Ginn and his staff have had more than this week to prepare. A Ginn with extra preparation time can be a dangerous thing.
5. Piedmont’s depth, belief
Piedmont (8-2) won state titles in 2015 and 2016 with Rushmore-like players carrying and catching the ball and behemoths blocking for them. They made last year’s semifinals with special skill people like Cardavion Myers and Lee Stanley bringing the big-play threats and producing big numbers while Logan Beadles blew up opposing offensive lines.
This year, it’s been more of a committee approach. The Bulldogs have 2,221 rushing yards but no thousand-yard rusher. They have 1,161 passing yards but no thousand-yard passer, though Mason Mohon is close at 919.
Piedmont still has good-for-3A depth, and they know how to win. Years of winning big shape belief, and they just won one of the state’s toughest regions for the fourth year in a row.
It should help in the Bulldogs’ playoff opener against Clements (4-6), and don’t be surprised to see these November regulars stick around for a while.
6. Tribe circling wagons
Speed kills, and Ohatchee (9-0) has a lot of it. It’s the fastest overall team fifth-year coach Scott Martin has had on the Creekbank, and that speed has produced a dominant look for 2A’s second-ranked team. The Indians have circled the wagons by an average of 43.4-13.7, and their conquests include two 4A opponents and a 3A.
It should serve Ohatchee well in its playoff opener against Cedar Bluff (7-3), which won for years in 1A with athletic teams. Speed should also help Ohatchee negotiate a 2A north playoff bracket that includes top-ranked Fyffe, ninth-ranked Collinsville, 10th-ranked Ranburne, Addison, Aliceville and Red Bay. The bracket also features Colbert County and North Sand Mountain, teams that, like Ohatchee, reclassified down from 3A this year.