The first week of the playoffs is here, and 12 of 15 coverage-area teams that made the playoffs will open at home, meaning they finished the regular season top two in their respective regions.
The area also has road teams, who finished third or fourth, who have good shots to win on the road this week.
Let’s get right to the storylines:
1. Road warriors I
Anniston (6-4), third qualifier in Class 4A, Region 6, goes on the road to play Fayette County (8-2), and the Bulldogs come as prepared as anybody for playoff action. Their brutal schedule this season includes losses to 4A third-ranked Catholic Montgomery (14-13), No. 2 American Christian (24-6) and No. 5 Jacksonville (38-30).
Anniston has a defense, and defense travels well. If the Bulldogs can stay out of their own way with penalties, and that’s always a big if, they could make a run.
2. Road warriors II
Wellborn (9-1) goes to Locust Fork (6-4) as the three seed no one wants to play.
The Panthers come off of an open date, so they’ve had adequate time to dispense of their 40-35 victory over Piedmont. They finished 2-1 in the gauntlet that was their final three games of the regular season against Randolph County, Pleasant Valley and Piedmont. The loss to Randolph County came on a game-ending field goal.
One of those wins was against Piedmont, which should give Wellborn the shot of confidence it needed going into its first playoff appearance since 2015. The Panthers have proved they can play with the best in 3A.
3. Hail to the champions
Of the 12 teams from the coverage area playing at home this week, six go in as region champions: Oxford (9-1), Jacksonville (8-2), Lincoln (8-2), Piedmont (9-1), Ohatchee (9-0).and Spring Garden (9-1).
Oxford won 6A, Region 6 and Piedmont 3A, Region 6, two of the state’s most notorious regions. Jacksonville (4A, Region 6), Ohatchee (2A, Region 6) and Spring Garden (1A, Region 5) went unbeaten in their regions, with three one-score region games between them.
Lincoln rides a five-game winning streak and, like Jacksonville, hasn’t lost to 4A competition all season.
Call ’em the Snickers Six, because they’re not going anywhere for awhile.
4. Terrible twos
The area has six region runners-up going into the playoffs: Alexandria (5A, Region 6), Central Clay (5A, Region 5), Handley (4A, Region 4), Randolph County (3A, Region 6), Ranburne 2A, Region 6) and Donoho (1A, Region 5).
Most have a recent history of deep playoff runs. Central Clay is the defending 5A champion and won the title as region runner-up a year ago. Randolph County made at least the quarterfinals each of the past four seasons, semifinals three times and title game once. Handley won its last four games away from home en route to the 2016 4A title.
Ranburne made the 2014 semifinals and 2015 quarters, and the 2019 Bulldogs have a defense that travels well. Ranburne also played Ohatchee’s most competitive game all season, beat previously unbeaten Reeltown and ended the regular season with a 48-34 victory over 4A White Plains.
Donoho rides a five-game winning streak and averaged 40.25 points over its past four games.
Alexandria knows it could’ve beaten Madison Academy in last year’s first round, and a much-improved Valley Cubs team comes looking to stick around this year.
5. Pedigree coaches
Oxford’s Keith Etheredge and Piedmont’s Steve Smith enter these playoffs with seven state titles and two runner-up finishes to their credits. Twists and turns of Etheredge’s career, however, leave him looking for his first playoff victory since 2015, which he coached his last Leeds team to a state title. Smith suffered his first title-game loss last season, to Flomaton.
Central Clay’s Danny Horn, meanwhile, looks to build on a resume that features seven state titles, with 2018 as the most recent one, and two runner-up finishes. He’s won them all while coaching in Clay County, either at the late Clay County High School or at Central, the school formed by the 2012 merger of bitter rivals Clay County and Lineville.
Pat Prestridge won a 2A title at Randolph County in 2003 and added a runner-up finish in 2017.
Handley’s Larry Strain has a state title and two runner-up finishes.
And speaking of pedigree, Alexandria has a head coach and two assistants named Ginn, say nothing of other assistants who played under Larry Ginn.
Jacksonville’s Clint Smith played under Horn, a Clay County. Ohatchee’s Scott Martin played under Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame coach Lee Hedges and was the special-teams coordinator/running backs coach on Destrehan’s 2007 title team.
Wellborn’s Jeff Smith played for Mike Battles, who won championships in three states.
6. Elite eight
A year after nine schools from Calhoun County made the playoffs, eight made it this year: Oxford, Wellborn, Anniston, Donoho, Ohatchee, Alexandria, Jacksonville and Piedmont. Pleasant Valley came within seconds of making it nine.
The county is home to 12 football-playing schools.