First week features big games

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL • WEEK ONE PREVIEW

The high school football season gets started this week with a couple of big in-county match-ups – one each on Thursday and Friday.

All games kick off at 7 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 27
Susan Moore (9-3 last year)
at J.B. Pennington (5-6 last year)
Last year – Susan Moore 35, J.B. Pennington 32

All-time – Susan Moore leads 29-22

This seems to always be a close, entertaining matchup (13-12 in 2007) that is not decided until the fourth quarter. That may not change this year.

The visiting Bulldogs have a lot of experience back on the offensive side of the ball and will look to play at a fast tempo to try and wear down a Tiger defense that will be short on numbers. Quarterback Justin Hawkins has a pair of solid running backs in Blake Weaver and John Evatt but he will be throwing to new receivers, so look for Pennington to try to load up along the line of scrimmage and take away the run early. The Bulldog offensive line matched up against the Tiger defensive front looks to be strength vs. strength and the winner of this battle could decide the game. The rebuilt Bulldog defense, led by linebacker Flavio Guerrero, will be tested by a solid Tiger running game. The Susan Moore secondary will face a quarterback that can make plays and a big receiver who can create some problems.

The Tigers are short on numbers but there is plenty of talent on the roster. Quarterback Lee Morton has plenty of running backs to choose from with as many as four Tigers looking to get carries. The passing game will rely on 6’5 Mitchell Doyle, who will look to find openings in a Bulldog secondary that gave up some yards a year ago. The Tiger offensive line is expected to be the strength of the team and this unit must have a good night if Pennington expects to win. The Tiger defense must take away the Bulldog running game and then get pressure on Hawkins. If Susan Moore is picking up chunks of yardage on the ground, it will open up the passing game and that means a long night for the Pennington defense.

Next week – J.B. Pennington opens region play with a
trip to Carbon Hill; Susan Moore returns home to face
Holly Pond for the region opener.
Friday, Aug. 28

Cullman (11-3) at Hayden (2-8)

Last year – Cullman 35, Hayden 0

All-time – Cullman leads 3-0

The Bearcats are not the same juggernaut they have been after severe losses to graduation. However, they are still one of the top teams in 5A Region 6.

Cullman has had to start over in several places but there is still a lot of talent on hand. The Bearcats blanked West Point 24-0 last week but the game was probably closer than the score indicated. West Point trailed just 3-0 at the half. Cullman lost a senior all-state quarterback in Tyler Caldwell from last year’s team and junior Dylan Skipper (5’10, 160) appears to have won the competition to take his place. His favorite targets are Connor Adams (6’0, 185 Sr) and Drew Forrest (6’1, 185 Sr) – Adams caught a six-yard touchdown last week and Forrest hauled in a 36-yarder for a score. The Cullman defense has often been overlooked but this has always been a solid defensive team. West Point made a play or two but the Warriors mustered just 103 yards of total offense, including just 32 through the air.

Hayden got off to a rough start at Lawrence County last week and had trouble fighting out of the early hole. The Wildcats have good size across the lines but the quicker Red Devil offensive and defensive fronts gave the visitors problems throughout the night. Hayden needs to get the running game going and that means Issac Veitch and Jordan Buckner must have room to operate. The Wildcats are in a totally different offensive system this year and it may take awhile for the players to get comfortable and confident in what they are doing. The Hayden defense will be tested by a Bearcat passing game that, while breaking in a new quarterback, is loaded with talent at the receiver positions. The Hayden defensive front has been one of the surprises of fall camp and this unit needs to have an outstanding night for the home team to spring the upset.

Next week – Hayden stays at home for a non-region
game with 4A Haleyville; Cullman has a home date with
big-time rival Walker for what could be the game of the
year in 5A Region 6.

1A Spring Garden (9-3) at 1A Appalachian (10-3)

Last year – Spring Garden 21, Appalachian 6

All-time – Appalachian leads 19-6

Payback time on the Mountain?

Jason Howard’s Panthers did a lot of things last year that Spring Garden had never done. The 2008 team won nine games, fashioned a four-game winning streak, and won a playoff game – all firsts in school history. They started the year with a win over Appalachian and that has certainly captured the attention of Ernie Willingham’s Eagles. Spring Garden lost a lot to graduation but they do return senior running back Trey Littlefield (5’10, 205) who piled up 1780 yards last year. He destroyed the Panthers last year with 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground. He also added a 32-yard interception return to account for all of the Panther points. Spring Garden rushed for 321 yards while holding Appalachian to just 60. The offensive line is a work in progress but is led by senior right tackle Casey Steward (6’2, 205). The defense may have lost more than the offense but returns undersized senior linebacker T.J. Brittain (5’7, 165).

Appalachian has several new starters on both sides of the ball and Willingham would have loved to have been able to play a jamboree. However, the rain-out at Sardis means the Eagles should be healthy this week. The Appalachian skill positions have several fresh new faces eager to get a shot but it’s the offensive front that needs to be ready Friday night. Spring Garden physically whipped the Eagles across the front last year and that cannot happen this week. Quarterback Jeremy Hill has plenty of young skill kids around him that can make plays and look for the Eagles to try to jump out early on a Spring Garden team that will also be playing a lot of new kids. The Appalachian defense will be a bit smaller across the front this year and this group needs to get to Littlefield before he gets going. If not, the 200-pound back may make for a long night for the home team.

Next week – Appalachian opens region play at
Jacksonville Christian; Spring Garden returns home to
open the region schedule with rival Collinsville.

5A Arab (2-8) at 4A Oneonta (10-3)

Last year – Oneonta 58, Arab 31

All-time – The series is even at 7-7-1

Redskins try to live up to the hype of being the No. 5 in 4A.

Arab head coach Watt Parker is still trying to build his program and last year’s season-opening annihilation at the hands of the Redskins showed just how far his team had to go. The Knights will be better this year. The offensive and defensive fronts have good size and that is an area where Arab played with Oneonta at times. The Knight offensive front is led by senior guard Blake Beam (5’10, 220). Quarterback Jonathan Embry (6’1, 175 Sr) if the leader of a Pistol-formation offense that will look to run the ball against Oneonta. The Knight defense will be quicker than last year’s group and it needs to be. There is some experience returning at every level and Parker says that getting senior defensive back Andrew Davis (5’11, 165) healthy this year will help immensely. Arab lost to Fairview 29-21 in a jamboree last week but played well, building a 14-0 lead early before the Aggies came back.

Like Willingham, Oneonta head coach Gardner Gilliland probably would have liked to see his team under the lights in a jamboree last week but rain at Guntersville made that impossible. Oneonta is as solid as they can be across the offensive and defensive lines but there are some questions at quarterback and receiver – yes, there’s talent but it’s all brand new. Last year, Nolen Smith lit up the Knight secondary like Times Square at Christmas as the Redskins rolled up almost 600 yards of total offense. Smith is sure to get most of the attention of the Arab defense and that means running backs Brandon Evatt and Vernarr Hughes, along with some of the younger receivers, could make plays. The difference in speed of the these two teams last year was absolutely amazing and Gilliland believes his team might be even faster overall this year. The Redskin defense gave up a lot of yards on the ground to Arab last year and the run defense will be tested early again this year.

Next week – Oneonta stays at Gilbreath Stadium for
the region opener with Jacksonville; Arab opens up the
region schedule at home against Scottsboro.

4A Locust Fork (3-7) at 2A Cleveland (3-7)

Last year – Cleveland 20, Locust Fork 15

All-time – Cleveland leads the series 23-16-1

Rivalry time at Michael E. Dixon Memorial Stadium.

The Hornets were also washed out of a jamboree last week against Douglas but this is a veteran team with a lot of kids back in key areas. The Hornets will once again have a size advantage up front against Cleveland but haven’t been able to do much on the ground consistently the last couple of years. That needs to change for Locust Fork to be successful Quarterback Kyle Smith has dangerous receivers to throw to in Colton Armstrong and Taylor Hughes but the Hornet offensive line and running backs need to take control early. The Locust Fork defense revolves around middle linebacker Matthew Checkley but it will be the play of the defensive line and secondary that hold the key to slowing down Cleveland’s new spread offense.

Good news for new Panther head coach Mark O’Bryant? He got to see his kids under the lights last week in a jamboree game at Susan Moore. Bad news? The Panthers are a banged-up football team heading into the season opener. Cleveland has some playmakers – quarterback Dusty Cornelius, running back Wayne Woodard, do-everything Chas Cornelius – but the Panthers may have to do some shuffling across the offensive line this week unless some injured players heal quickly. The Panther defense gave up a couple of big plays through the air last week and one on the ground but played pretty solid football for the most part. This group will need to be good again this week – especially against the pass with the talent that Locust Fork will put on the edges at the receiver positions.

Next week – Cleveland opens up region play at defending

region champion (and 2008 2A runner-up) Sulligent;
Locust Fork stays on the road with a trip to Etowah
County to face Hokes Bluff in the region opener.