West Alabama High School Football: Playoffs Round 1 Preview
Last Week’s Picks: 4-2*
This Season’s Picks: 44-16
*- Last week, Hillcrest forfeited their game against Demopolis, and Mars Hill forfeited against ACA.
After the conclusion of the 2020 regular season, my picks have been finalized at 44-16 (73.3%).
Now that the regular season has concluded, excitement is buzzing in the Druid City in preparation for the Super 7 State Championships that will take place at the beginning of December in Bryant-Denny Stadium. In a season that has seen unlikely upsets, high-scoring shootouts, and many forfeits due to COVID-19, six teams remain in contention for the state title.
No. 3 McGill-Toolen Yellow Jackets (7-2, 5-2) @ No. 2 Hillcrest Patriots (8-2, 5-1):
For many high school football fans in Tuscaloosa, the Ethan Crawford-led Patriots have been the top story. With the young quarterback at the helm, Hillcrest has scored 312 points this year. In fact, in all eight games that were played (the remaining two were a win and a loss due to a COVID forfeiture), Hillcrest has scored at least 24 points.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots are allowing around 18 points a game. With that being said, Hillcrest’s opponents’ total record is 53-55. This can be partially blamed on a weak year in Region 4. Four of the seven teams were at or below a .500 winning percentage.
Don’t overlook McGill-Toolen, though. The private Catholic school in Mobile was a powerhouse in 7A before they got moved down to 6A this year. The Yellow Jackets won four straight region titles from 2015-2019 with a state title in 2015. In addition to their championship, McGill-Toolen had an appearance in the state title game in 2016 and 2017.
This year has been a different story, however. In their first year in a new classification and region, McGill lost two region games and snuck into the playoffs as a three-seed, alongside Spanish Fort and Saraland who are historically successful.
The winner of this game will play the winner of the Opelika-Wetumpka game.
No. 3 Northridge Jaguars (7-3, 4-2) @ No. 2 Saraland Spartans (8-2, 6-1):
After a tough loss to T-County last week, Northridge will be hitting the road to take on Saraland. Even after their loss, the Jaguars’ defense is still averaging 13.7 points allowed per game. The only two times Northridge has given up more than 16 points were in their two losses, one to Hillcrest and one to Tuscaloosa County.
Still, Northridge fans have a lot to be happy about with this year’s team. This is the first time since 2015 that the Jaguars have had a winning season. It might not be the high-powered offense of Hillcrest, but with an average of 26.6 points a game, Northridge has found four region wins.
The Spartans also have a powerful defense, only allowing 10.8 points a game. The former-7A powerhouse McGill-Toolen only managed two touchdowns in a 42-14 Saraland victory. Much like Hillcrest, Saraland has had a big offensive year, scoring 35-plus points in all of their wins.
As for playoff experience, Saraland trumps the Jags. In the school’s 11 years of fielding a team, the Spartans have made it to the postseason 10 straight years, from 2011-2020.
The winner of this game will play the winner of the Pelham-Lee Montgomery.
No. 3 Deshler Tigers (6-4, 5-2) @ No. 2 Northside Rams (8-5, 5-1):
Continuing the trend of strong defense, the Deshler Tigers have proven themselves by only allowing 125 points this whole season. Only one of the Tigers’ victories was by less than a touchdown. With that being said, Deshler’s offense has struggled by only averaging 22 points a game. Regardless, the Tigers will be ready for their fourth-straight playoff appearance.
Northside’s offense will be the key to this game. In most of their ten games so far, the Rams have only scored more than 30 points twice this year- both of which were victories over teams with a combined 7-13 record.
The saving grace for the Rams, though, is their defense. Sense a trend here? With an average of only 11.6 allowed points this year, this game is bound to be a very defensive, low-scoring affair.
The winner of this game will play the winner of the Madison Academy-Dora game.
No. 3 Woodville Panthers (5-5, 4-2) @ No. 2 Pickens County Tornadoes (7-3, 6-1):
Last week’s loss to Gordo was tough to swallow for Tornadoes’ fans. It seemed like Pickens County was on a positive trend with four straight games with at least 26 points scored, but this came to a halt with a loss to the rival where Pickens County only scored a safety and a single touchdown.
While it could just be fatigue from 10 straight games, the Tornadoes will just have to shake it off for a 16th-straight playoff appearance. History is on the Tornadoes’ side though- Pickens County has made it to at least the semi-finals every year since 2016.
Woodville is a different story. While they may be on a two-year playoff streak and a three-game winning streak, the Panthers have struggled on defense. The average score all season for Woodville sits at 26.8 points scored to 35.4 points allowed. Three of the Panthers’ wins were by one score with a two-overtime victory over Sumiton Christian, so Woodville is used to close games, but if Pickens County can score early, it might be tough for the Panthers.
The winner of this game will face the winner of Decatur Heritage Christian-Wadley.
No. 4 Brooks Lions (6-4, 4-3) @ No. 1 Gordo Green Wave (9-1, 6-0) [Thursday]:
Recently for the Brooks Lions, the first round of the playoffs has been a roadblock. Since 2018, Brooks has lost each of its first-round games. This has not been the case for Gordo. The Green Wave has made it to at least the third round two years in a row.
The Green Wave’s offense might be the star of the game Thursday. After they lost their starting quarterback at the end of the Northridge game, Gordo has had junior quarterback Lawson Neel filling in. This looked to be a problem, but instead, the offense has scored 40-plus points in two of the past three games, but those opponents had a combined record of 12-8.
Defense has also been a strong asset for Gordo. The Green Wave is averaging only 10 points allowed per game.
While most of Gordo’s victories have been won by more than two touchdowns, Brooks keeps their contests closer. The Lions are averaging a score of 26.7 points scored to 21.2 points allowed. Momentum is on Brooks’ side though with a four-game winning streak.
The winner of this game will face the winner of Madison County-Oneonta.
No. 4 Geneva Panthers (4-6, 3-4) @ No. 1 American Christian Patriots (10-0, 7-0):
Of all of the teams in the Tuscaloosa area, ACA has been the most impressive. After going undefeated in the regular season for the second time in two years, the Patriots are beating teams in 2020 by around 30 points a game.
With Under Armour All-American Kamari Lassiter as the star of the defense, the Patriots are only letting opponents score around 12 points a game, while simultaneously averaging 35 points on offense.
During the playoffs though, ACA can’t seem to make it past the third round. For three years in a row now, ACA has failed to make it to the semi-finals.
Not to overlook Geneva, but the Panthers got lucky late in the season and got into the post-season with a 3-4 region record. Geneva is on a three-game losing streak, and the offense hasn’t scored more than 26 points in a game since the middle of September which will be a problem if the Panthers want to keep up with ACA. Combined with the fact that Geneva hasn’t won on the road once this year, this could be a tough one for this fourth seed.
The winner of this game will face the winner of the Mobile Christian-Cherokee County game.