Football preview: Playoff races hit home stretch
Back during the blazing summer, when coaches were imploring their football players to run one more set of wind sprints though they wanted nothing more than to sit down and drink some water, this is what they were working for.
Not the local rivalry, as important as those games are, or for the homecoming game with all its festivities but for the end of the region games, when playoff fates are determined.
Several local teams on Friday will be playing to either secure a playoff berth or to earn a better seeding in the playoffs, which begin Nov. 5.
Still, most coaches don’t spend much time talking about playoff scenarios, instead simply telling their players the importance of winning the next game on the schedule.
“We don’t spend a lot of time on it because I don’t want them thinking about that instead of this next game,” said Scott Booth, whose Isabella team hosts Class 2A, Region 4 opponent R.C. Hatch on Friday. “We’ve got to take care of this game or none of that other stuff matters.”
The Mustangs (3-4, 1-4 region) are battling for one of the four playoff berths guaranteed to each region. Standing in their way is another local team, Billingsley (2-5, 2-3).
Isabella needs to win its final two region games and for Billingsley to lose its last two, against Francis Marion and Central-Hayneville. The Bears need only to win Thursday to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
Also residing in Region 4 is Thorsby (6-1, 4-1), who plays Vincent (5-2, 5-0) Friday in a game that will likely determine which team gets to host in the first playoff round.
The top two finishers in each region host in the first round, while the third and fourth teams travel.
Another local team hoping to host a playoff round is Jemison. To do so, the Panthers (5-2, 4-1) must win at Livingston on Friday and also defeat Greene County next week.
Class 1A No. 2 Maplesville has already clinched the right to host in Round 1, but the Red Devils (7-0, 5-0) still play an important game Friday, as their unblemished record and the Region 4 title will be on the line when Autaugaville (6-1, 5-0) visits.
Last week’s 39-27 win at Pickens County was, without question, Maplesville’s toughest test so far.
Pickens was the first team this season to score on the Devils—and even held a 13-12 lead at halftime—but MHS coach Brent Hubbert said he liked the way his team responded to the challenge.
“We got to finally see what we’re going to do when we face adversity,” Hubbert said. “I thought our kids showed a little character and fight.
“Our kids responded at halftime. We had guys that made plays in all three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams. Guys were wanting the ball in their hand, wanting to make a play—linemen were wanting the ball run behind them.”
After watching film from last week’s game, which included Pickens quarterback Jematric Curry scrambling for 162 yards on 18 carries, Hubbert expects Autaugaville to turn loose its mobile QB, freshman London Maynard.
Devils fans hope their defense can force Maynard into as many mistakes as it did Curry, who threw two interceptions and took six sacks in addition to running for all those yards.
If the game is close in the fourth quarter, at least Maplesville will have been in that situation before and will know how to handle it.
“We could tell in practice there was a little more confidence,” Hubbert said. “You go through and you’re blowing everybody out, even the kids start to question what you’re going to do when you’re challenged a little bit.”
Who will win?
The playoffs can be the single biggest motivator for a football team to practice well during the week and then play hard on Friday night, so look for wins from every local squad with something on the line.
Pick: Billingsley, Isabella, Jemison, Maplesville, Thorsby
Picks record: 29-7
Your pick: Who will win the Autaugaville-Maplesville game? Total Voters: 61
Your pick: Who will win the Autaugaville-Maplesville game?
Total Voters: 61
Also Friday night
Wilcox-Central (3-4, 1-4 region) at Chilton Co. (2-5, 1-4)
Since a dramatic season-opening win over rival Jemison, this season hasn’t gone as Chilton County coach Brian Carter and his team would have liked. There won’t be a third consecutive playoff appearance for the team under Carter’s watch, but the end of a four-game losing streak and an enjoyable homecoming win will heal some of the wounds. Pick: Chilton Co.
St. Jude (6-1, 5-0) at Verbena (2-5, 2-3)
After starting the season with five consecutive losses, Verbena has turned things around nicely and won two straight. It will be difficult to run that streak to three wins, however, against a talented St. Jude squad. Pick: St. Jude