West Alabama High School Football: Playoffs Round 2 Preview
After Northridge’s 45-7 loss to Saraland last Friday, the Tuscaloosa area is left with just five playoff teams: Hillcrest, Gordo, Northside, American Christian Academy, and Pickens County. As Round 2 of the playoffs looms, only one of the teams, ACA, will be playing from home. Every other team will be traveling to every corner of the state. From Madison County and Decatur in north Alabama to Opelika in east Alabama, teams around the Druid City are fighting hard to keep their hopes alive for a state title game appearance in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
No. 2 Hillcrest Patriots (9-2, 5-1) @ No. 1 Opelika Bulldogs (8-2, 7-0):
While many media outlets across the state picked former-7A powerhouse McGill-Toolen to end Hillcrest’s season last week, the Patriots proved early that the Yellow Jackets’ time in the limelight was over. While star sophomore quarterback Ethan Crawford had a lackluster night, only completing six passes, Hillcrest showed the state that their rushing attack is just as powerful.
One problem stood out for the Patriots though. McGill-Toolen attempted a fourth-quarter comeback that ultimately failed, but this showed that Hillcrest must remain dialed in throughout the game, especially when they start to see power teams like Opelika.
Sitting 160 miles away on the other side of the state, the Bulldogs looked powerful last week. By defeating the Wetumpka Indians, a team Hillcrest only beat by five points earlier in the year, Opelika flexed a strong offensive performance.
Opelika’s defense is strong, only allowing 13.8 points a game, but this shouldn’t be a problem for the Patriots. Last week’s performance against McGill-Toolen yielded 31 points. Before this game, the Yellow Jackets boasted a top-five defense that averaged only 11.7 points and 263.4 yards a game. Hillcrest blew the defense out of the water by scoring 31 points and gaining over 300 yards. If Hillcrest wants to advance to the third round, they have to keep their “30-plus points a game” streak alive.
The winner of this matchup will take on the winner of the Lee-Montgomery/Saraland game.
No. 2 Pickens County Tornadoes (8-3, 6-1) @ No. 1 Decatur Heritage Christian Eagles (9-2, 7-0):
After an uncharacteristic game against Gordo in the last week of the regular season, the Tornadoes rebounded with a 33-8 victory against Woodville in the first round last week. To show how much of an outlier the loss to Gordo was, that was the only game since September that Pickens County hadn’t scored at least 26 points.
Still, in the playoffs, momentum is a definitive factor. Pickens County set an early precedent that their defense is ready to step up to any challenge.
Decatur Heritage Christian comes into this matchup riding a nine-game winning streak. The Eagles haven’t lost a game since August, and it hasn’t really been close. Besides a seven-point victory against R.A. Hubbard on October 8th, the Eagles have had an average margin of victory of 31.3 points. This might be a problem for the Tornadoes, who have only scored 31 points twice in the last seven games.
The winner of this game will face the winner of the Winterboro/Hubbertville game.
No. 2 Mobile Christian Leopards (9-1, 5-1) @ No. 1 American Christian Patriots (11-0, 7-0):
With their 65-21 victory over Geneva last week, for the sixth time in a row, ACA scored at least 40 points in played games (this streak spans nine games, but it includes three forfeit wins). Throughout the entire season, the Patriots are averaging 37.9 points a game, so the ACA faithful will surely be expecting another game with over five touchdowns. This offensive consistency has cemented the Patriots as the top team in 4A.
The ACA defense has had nothing to worry about either, though. With an average allowance of only 13.5 points a game, the Patriots’ defense has only allowed more than 20 points once since the beginning of September- last week’s victory over Geneva.
While Mobile Christian’s defense is putting up better stats with two shutouts and an average of 10.8 points a game this season, this shouldn’t worry ACA. The Leopards’ opponents’ overall record is 53-51, just a few games over .500.
The difference between these two teams, though, is the Leopards’ offense. Allowing less than two touchdowns is a moot point when your offense can’t score. Two of Mobile Christian’s last three games have been decided by less than a touchdown.
The winner of this game will advance to the third round for a matchup against the winner of Alabama Christian/Jacksonville.
No. 2 Northside Rams (9-2, 5-1) @ No. 1 Madison Academy Mustangs (10-0, 7-0):
The Rams had an impressive come-from-behind victory over Deshler last Friday in a game where they flexed their rushing muscles. By sticking to what they know, Northside advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Unfortunately for the Rams, they will be traveling to Madison Academy, the second-best 4A team in the state. This success is not new to the Mustangs, though. Since 2009, Madison Academy has won three state titles (’12. ’13, and ’14) nine region titles.
This year is more of the same. Both the Mustangs’ offense (33.8 points per game) and the defense (12.0 points per game) have combined to make an extremely powerful opponent for Northside. Through their six region games that were played, Madison Academy hung a total of 257 points while only allowing 100. That averages to a score of 43-17.
If Northside wants to win, their defense needs to make big stops and take advantage of any Madison Academy mistake that they can find.
The winner of this game will play the winner of Etowah/Haleyville.
No. 1 Gordo Green Wave (10-1, 6-0) @ No. 3 Oneonta Redskins (7-4, 4-2):
After breaking his non-dominant collarbone in a Week 6 loss to Northridge, Gordo quarterback Tanner Bailey made a triumphant return in a 41-12 first-round victory over Brooks. Bailey didn’t miss his stride and finished the game with 223 yards and two touchdowns.
While Gordo surely missed its starting quarterback, the Green Wave defense managed by only allowing eight points in the four games Bailey missed. In fact, this whole season, Gordo hasn’t allowed more than 20 points the entire season.
This might prove as a challenge to the Green Wave, however. Oneonta’s season included a six-game win streak where the Redskins scored 234 points (an average of 39 points a game).
Gordo hasn’t had a close game decided by less than a touchdown since Bailey’s injury against the Jaguars, so this might be uncharted territory, but if Gordo’s defense keeps their 11-game streak without more than 20 points allowed, the Green Wave could be moving on to the third round.
The winner of this matchup will take on the winner of the West Limestone/Good Hope game.