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First-round tests await local football teams

Chilton County, Jemison and Maplesville put themselves in the upper half of state football teams by earning playoff berths.

Now comes the next challenge: making it past the first round.

Such a feat would be nothing new for Maplesville, but Chilton County and Jemison are looking to long droughts. Jemison hasn’t won a first-round playoff game since 2000, one year after the Panthers’ appearance in the Class 4A championship game, and CCHS hasn’t done so since 1996.

Chilton County (5-5, 3-3 region) at No. 10 Briarwood (7-3, 6-0)

– This theme is surely old by now, but it can’t be overstated: Chilton County had two top-5 teams beat the past two weeks, but the Tigers couldn’t finish. Coach Brian Carter’s lesson about finishing has surely sunk in by now, so I’m picking CCHS to pull the shocker. Pick: Chilton Co.

Jemison (5-5, 5-2) at Anniston (6-4, 5-2)

– Jemison didn’t end the season the way it wanted, losing two of its last three games. But both of those losses came against top-5 teams in Bibb County and Shelby County. Shelby is a Class 5A team, as is Chilton Co., who Jemison played and lost to in Week 1. Sooner or later, the difficult schedule has to pay dividends for the Panthers. Well, it’s now or never. Pick: Jemison.

Talladega County Central (8-1, 5-1) at No. 4 Maplesville (9-1, 7-1)

– There are only two teams in the state—No. 1 Sweet Water and No. 2 Linden—that can defeat Maplesville. And the Red Devils might just get revenge for their only loss of the season, to Linden, if their paths cross again in the playoffs. Pick: Maplesville.

Picks record: 51-11

Still, each team each year gets a thrill just by making the playoffs.

“It’s always exciting,” Jemison coach Brad Abbott said. “Half the teams in the state aren’t practicing, and you’re getting to.”

The Panthers (5-5, 5-2 Class 4A, Region 3) will visit Anniston (6-4, 5-2 Class 4A, Region 4) on Friday.

The two programs have never met before.

CCHS, meanwhile, might already have the feel for the playoffs, having faced highly ranked teams in the last two weeks of the season.

The Tigers (5-5, 3-3 Class 5A, Region 3) fell to Class 5A No. 2 Greenville, 28-21, on Oct. 23 and to Class 4A No. 4 Bibb County, 32-26, on Oct. 30.

Greenville and Bibb County both ended the regular season unbeaten, but CCHS had legitimate shots to win both games.

CCHS coach Brian Carter said the message this week, as his team prepares to visit No. 10 Briarwood Christian (7-3, 6-0 Region 4), is “finish.”

“I think our guys have taken away a lot of confidence from [their last two games], knowing we can play with some of the best teams in the state,” Carter said. “That’s good because we’ve got another one [Friday] night.”

No. 4 Maplesville this year hopes for a return to its strong playoff tradition.

The Red Devils have made at least the semifinal round of the playoffs nine times since the 1994 season. They have played in two championship games and won one state title, in 1996.

But Friday’s opponent, Talladega County Central (6-4, 5-2 Class 1A, Region 4, has been closer than Maplesville recently. The Fighting Tigers lost to Sweet Water in the 2007 championship game.

The Red Devils (9-1, 7-1 Region 3) feel good, though—literally.

Coach Brent Hubbert said his team has had as many as five starters, and six players overall, out at one time this season, but everyone except senior Brian Bailey, who suffered a season-ending injury over the summer, should be ready to play Friday.

“We feel like we finished the regular season playing pretty good football,” Hubbert said. “We just want to turn it up a little bit here in the playoffs.”