Only the strong survive

Four Blount County teams made the playoffs with two on the road and two playing at home.

Cleveland, the No. 4 team in Region 7, has arguably the toughest trip as Mark O’Bryant’s Panthers will travel to Lexington to take on the No. 9 team in Class 2A.

Oneonta, the No. 3 team in Region 6, is also on the road and it will not be an easy game for the Redskins as they travel to Fayette County to take on one of the winningest programs (and coaches) in the state.

Appalachian and Susan Moore are region champions and will face a fourth-seeded team at home in the first round.

Appalachian gets a familiar foe with Gaylesville coming to the Mountain.

Susan Moore gets a Walter Wellborn program that has competed in 4A and 5A for the most part over the years but is now in 3A.

A special reminder this week – preferred or reserve seating is no longer available in the playoffs, so get there early, and admission is $7 for playoff games.

As always, all games kick off at 7 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 6

1A Gaylesville (6-4) at Appalachian (8-2)
Last meeting – (2005) Appalachian 34, Gaylesville 6

All-time – Gaylesville leads the series 15-10

Coosa Chr. 24, Gaylesville 14 Appalachian 31, Spring Garden 14
Gaston 46, Gaylesville 23 Appalachian 42, Jacksonville Chr. 13
Gaylesville 49,Woodville 0 Appalachian 30, Coosa Chr. 6
Gaylesville 32, Skyline 0 Appalachian 53, St. Bernard 6
Gaylesville 41, Parkway Chr. 6 Westbrook Chr. 32, Appalachian 6
Spring Garden 42, Gaylesville 28 Victory Chr. 27, Appalachian 23
Gaylesville 24, Collinsville 6 Appalachian 67, Jefferson Chr. 6
Gaylesville 18,Valley Head 13 Appalachian 54, Parkway Chr. 6
Cedar Bluff 26, Gaylesville 14 Appalachian 39, Ragland 13
Gaylesville 47, Jefferson Chr. 0 Appalachian 28, Cleveland 27 OT

Notes – Gaylesville has made 10 playoff appearances
in school history and is 2-9 overall, including just 1-7 on
the road in the first round. These teams have played 25
times but this is the first playoff meeting between the
schools. Appalachian has made 19 playoff appearances
and is 4-18 overall, including 3-2 at home in the first
round. Gaylesville hasn’t won a playoff game since a 12-
7 victory over Springville in the first round in Class 1A in
1975. Gaylesville lost 36-6 at Sulligent in 2007.
Gaylesville won the first 10 meetings between these
schools but Appalachian has won 10 of the last 15,
including the last five in a row.

Gaylesville has put together a solid year under head coach Brian Clowdis. The Trojans were competitive in almost every game with only high-powered Gaston able to really run the score up. The Trojans are a physical bunch that plays hard – two nice traits to have when it comes to playoff football. The Gaylesville offense is a mixture of almost everything – from the I to the spread and a lot of in between. Quarterback Luke Murphy (5’10, 170 Jr.) has made plays with his arm and with his legs and he must be contained. There is some speed around him, especially eighth-grade running back David Sanford (5’5, 155) who can score from anywhere. The Trojans have good size across both fronts (avg. 225) but depth is an issue among the linemen. The Gaylesville defense was simply run over at times by Gaston and Spring Garden (each rushed for more than 200 yards) but has played much better football over the last few weeks. The Trojans will be physical across the front but have worn down against better competition and teams that can throw the ball have caused some problems for a young secondary. Gaylesville special teams are average.

Appalachian got a huge win last week to wrap up the region but it’s time for the celebrating to end. The Eagles face a Gaylesville team that is probably a little better than the typical fourth-seed would normally be. The Eagle offense didn’t do much on the ground last week (less than 100 yards against 2A Cleveland) but Jeremy Hill and the passing game were able to make some plays – particularly when Hill was able to find Cameron Cox. The size of the Eagle receivers will be a problem for a small Gaylesville secondary. The Appalachian running game needs to pick it up a notch this week. Gaylesville has played better defense over the second half of the season but the running games of Gaston and Spring Garden exposed a major Trojan weakness. If the Eagle offensive line plays with intensity, then the Trojan defensive front could be in for a long night. The Appalachian defense must take away the running game of the Trojans and make Murphy throw the ball – something Gaylesville has struggled to do with any consistency this year. If Gaylesville is unable to line up and run the football, then the Eagle defensive front can focus on penetrating and getting pressure on Murphy. Eagle special teams have been solid and this might be the week that the Appalachian return units make some plays.

Next week – The winner will face either Victory
Christian or Cedar Bluff – Appalachian would host
regardless of the opponent.

2A Cleveland (5-5) at No. 9 Lexington (9-1)

This is the first meeting between the schools

Locust Fork 15, Cleveland 14 Lexington 31, Rogers 6
Sulligent 35, Cleveland 12 Lexington 24, Clements 14
Lamar County 48, Cleveland 30 Lexington 24, Tanner 7
Cleveland 42, Cold Springs 0 Lexington 27, Phil Campbell 8
Cleveland 21, J.B. Pennington 20 Lauderdale Co. 35, Lexington 28
Cleveland 41, Oakman 19 Lexington 34, Cherokee 7
Winston Co. 35, Cleveland 7 Lexington 33,Hatton 28
Cleveland 35, Falkville 7 Lexington 45,Westminster Chr. 10
Cleveland 22, Addison 20 Lexington 42, Red Bay 20
Appalachian 28, Cleveland 27 OT Lexington 41, Central-Florence 26

Notes – This is the first meeting between the schools
but Lexington has faced three other Blount County
opponents. The Golden Bears were beaten by Hayden 53-
0 (1953) and 13-6 (1954) and lost to Locust Fork 26-0 in
the first round in 2001. Lexington has played Oneonta
three times – losing 28-25 in the second round in 1987
and 31-7 in the regular season in 1994. The Golden
Bears’ only win over a Blount County school was a 34-23
triumph over Oneonta in the second game of the 1995
season. Cleveland has made 12 playoff appearances and
is 4-11 overall, including 2-4 on the road in the first
round. Lexington has made 18 playoff appearances and
is 13-17 overall, including 5-1 at home in the first round.

Cleveland didn’t have much to play for last week other than pride but now the Panthers need to bring the intensity up another notch. The problem is that injuries continue to be a major concern for a team that has had as many as eight starters miss games at the same time this year. Not much is expected of the Panthers as they take on one of the better teams in the northern half of the 2A bracket. The Panther offense has been good this year but must be very good this week. Lexington has struggled containing athletic quarterbacks (Lauderdale County, Hatton) and Cleveland’s Dusty Cornelius will challenge the Golden Bear defense this week. He has been able to make plays on the run or downfield to Chas Cornelius and Geoffrey Gammon in the passing game. His mobility scares a lot of teams, including Lexington. The Panther offensive and defensive fronts will face very good Golden Bear units. Defensively, Cleveland will need to take some risks to get pressure and make some plays. Lexington is good on offense and has not really been slowed down over the second half of the season. Cleveland must crowd the line and make some plays in the backfield to keep the Golden Bear offense from getting into a rhythm. Cleveland special teams need to make some plays this week, either with a big return or a blocked punt or even a fake or two.

Lexington is the champion of 2A Region 8 and the Golden Bears deserve it after making their way through a tough schedule with just the one loss to 3A Lauderdale County keeping Rickie Putman’s team from a perfect record. The Golden Bears are solid on both sides of the ball, especially up front. The Lexington offensive and defensive lines are loaded with size (avg. 230 lbs. across both fronts) and there is good depth behind the starters. Jake Hammond (6’1, 255 Sr.) is the leader of the offensive line and will see some time on the defensive front, as well. The Golden Bear offense has plenty of weapons and can move the ball on the ground or through the air. Quarterback Kenneth Ratliff (6’3, 175 Sr.) missed four games with a broken wrist but has still managed to throw for better than 700 yards. He is the son of defensive coordinator Randy Ratliff, a 1980 graduate of Susan Moore. The leading receiver is WR/TE Hunter Roberson (6’2, 200 Jr). The Lexington defense has played very good at times (held 4A Rogers to 6 points and dangerous Tanner to 7) but struggled against Lauderdale County and others with balanced offenses. The defense is led by a pair of active linebackers – Joshua Robinson (5’8, 215 Sr) and Joseph Beavers (5’10, 160 Sr). The defensive front has been solid but the secondary has given up some plays with the ball in the air this year. Lexington special teams have been very solid.

Next week – the winner will take on either Winston
County or Clements. Cleveland would travel to Winston
County but would host Clements.

3A Walter Wellborn (4-6) at No. 10 Susan Moore (8-2)

This is the first meeting between the schools

Saks 31,Walter Wellborn 6 Susan Moore 29, J.B. Pennington 0
Piedmont 28,Walter Wellborn 12 Susan Moore 47,Holly Pond 15
Leeds 27,Walter Wellborn 7 Pisgah 22, Susan Moore 21
Walter Wellborn 24, Pleasant Valley 18 Susan Moore 28, New Hope 0
Alexandria 21,Walter Wellborn 0 Oneonta 28, Susan Moore 21
Glencoe 21,Walter Wellborn 0 Susan Moore 34, Sylvania 27
Walter Wellborn 50,Weaver 14 Susan Moore 40, Brindlee Mtn. 7
Walter Wellborn 22, Tarrant 8 Susan Moore 27, Sardis 21
Walter Wellborn 21,White Plains 18 Susan Moore 51, Crossville 20
Jacksonville 26,Walter Wellborn 12 Susan Moore 33, Locust Fork 14

Notes – This is the first meeting between the two
schools and Susan Moore will be just the second Blount
County opponent for the Panther program. Walter
Wellborn lost to Hayden 21-0 (2004) and 27-26 (2005) in
the schools’ only games against the county. Look for
Wellborn to score 15 points this week – the Panthers
scored 154 points this year (15.4 per game) and Susan
Moore allowed 154 points on the season. Wellborn has
made 17 playoff appearances and is 14-16 overall,
including 3-8 on the road in the first round. Susan Moore
has made 26 playoff appearances and is 24-25 overall,
including 9-4 at home in the first round. Wellborn has
not won a playoff game since a 27-10 quarterfinal victory

over Erwin in Class 5A in 1995.

Six weeks into the year, Jeff Smith’s Panthers were on trouble after back-to-back 21-0 shutouts at the hands of Alexandria and Glencoe left them at 1-5. However, the Panthers came back to win three straight region games late in the year to make the playoffs. The Panthers have only seven seniors on a very young roster (29 of the 46 are sophomores or below). Smith, who Susan Moore fans will remember as the head coach at Ohatchee earlier this decade, has always relied on the Wing-T and he has a very good running back in Delrickus Rhoden (5’9, 155 Jr.). Rhoden has the moves and speed to score from anywhere and he has caused problems for just about every defense he has seen this year. He operates behind an offensive line that has gotten better as the season progressed. The Panthers do not throw the ball well. The Walter Wellborn defense has been pretty good against the run at times but was beat up by the better offensive lines of Piedmont, Alexandria, and Jacksonville. Teams that can throw the ball have been able to make plays through the air against an athletic but young secondary. Rhoden is a threat on a return but Panther special teams are not strong.

Susan Moore has played very good football the last three or four weeks but needs to dial things up this week. The Bulldog offense has not been shut down by any defense this year but Wellborn will try to pressure the Susan Moore offense at the line of scrimmage and take away the quick passes and intermediate routes that the Bulldogs favor. Look for Justin Hawkins to look deep early to Jose Diaz, Cody Sanders, or Joshia Witt to open up the running game of John Evatt and Blake Weaver later. The Bulldog offensive line needs to get off to a quick start for that plan to work. The Susan Moore defense hasn’t seen much true Wing-T this year but Bulldog defensive coordinator Kirk Ingram has. Look for Susan Moore to bunch the line of scrimmage to slow down a Panther running game that has made plays. The Bulldog front needs to tackle well and that will not be easy. Rhoden is not the biggest or fastest back that Susan Moore has seen but he runs hard and has a little bit of wiggle to him. Flavio Guerrero and his buddies along the defensive front will be challenged. Bulldog special teams have been decent this year but this would be a nice week to make a play in the return game against Wellborn coverage units that have struggled a bit this season.

Next week – the winner faces either Pisgah or
Piedmont and Susan Moore would be the host team
regardless of the winner.

4A Oneonta (8-2) at Fayette County (7-3)

This is the first meeting between the schools

Oneonta 34, Arab 33 Fayette Co. 21, Winfield 0
Oneonta 52, Jacksonville 0 Fayette Co. 21, Oak Grove 10
Oneonta 42, Locust Fork 13 Demopolis 32, Fayette Co. 7
Cherokee Co. 42, Oneonta 14 Fayette Co. 12,Haleyville 0
Oneonta 28, Susan Moore 21 Fayette Co. 33, Gordo 6
Oneonta 46, Ashville 7 Fayette Co. 48, Dora 27
Oneonta 21,Hokes Bluff 12 Midfield, 14, Fayette Co. 6
Alexandria 31, Oneonta 30 Fayette Co. 20, Corner 0
Oneonta 17, St. Clair Co. 7 Fayette Co. 27,West Point 12
Oneonta 48, J.B. Pennington 20 Cordova 36, Fayette Co. 14

Notes – This is the first meeting between Fayette
County and a Blount County school; Oneonta has never
played a school from Fayette County (Berry and
Hubbertville – both 1A – are the others). Played a tough
schedule? Oneonta’s opponents are a combined 52-48
this year; Fayette County’s opponents are 57-41. Waldon
Tucker has been head coach of the Tigers since 1984 and
is 294-126-2 in 36 years as a head coach. His 1996 team
went 15-0 and won the 5A state title. He was the head
coach at Gordo from 1978 to 1983. His 1980 Green Wave
team came to Blount County in the second round and
defeated Susan Moore 36-8 and went on to win the 2A
title with a 26-22 victory at Southern Choctaw in the
championship game.

The Redskins have been solid the last two weeks but solid probably won’t get it done in Fayette this week. Oneonta did the job last week against Pennington. Quarterback Travis Hankins was able to throw for big yards because his offensive line did a good job against the Pennington defensive front. Fayette will present a bigger challenge but the situation is the same – Oneonta needs to throw the ball down the field to Nolen Smith and Alvin Scott to open up the running game and the offensive line’s protection is the key. Vernarr Hughes has been able to make plays over the last few weeks in the running game and that is a reflection on the Redskin offensive line. If Oneonta can run (say, 150 yards or more) then the Redskins can win. The Oneonta defense must play well. The Tigers have some weapons on offense, particularly in the passing game, and the Redskins must be solid at all three levels of the defense. The Redskin secondary gave up plays to the good passing games of Cherokee County and Susan Moore and will be challenged by a Fayette County attack that may be just as good. Redskin special teams have made some plays in the return game but the coverage units were lit up by Cherokee County and Fayette may be the next best thing they have seen.

Fayette County is the runner-up in Region 5 and Waldon Tucker’s Tigers have been solid each week of the season. Only a 22-point loss at 5A Demopolis and a 36- 14 loss at Cordova stand out on the schedule as nights where the Tigers didn’t show up. The Tiger offense is built around the spread and junior quarterback Evan Sims (6’0, 170) is the man who makes it go. He is in his third year as a starter, has already won 25 games, and Tucker says he may be better than any he has coached – strong words considering his sons (Lance and Luke) both played at the University of Alabama. They are assistants on his staff. The Tigers do not run the ball much but have a dangerous weapon in Tim Walker (5’9, 160) who will line up in the backfield or split out as a receiver. The Fayette County offensive line has good size (avg. 230) and has played well for the most part this year. Fayette County is young on offense with just two senior starters on this side of the ball. The Tigers have been very good on defense this year. Like a lot of teams, Fayette County has put an emphasis on speed over size on the defensive front and this has paid off with a unit that averages surrendering just 13 points per game. The secondary has been solid but the defensive front couldn’t handle the running games of Demopolis and Cordova. Fayette County special teams have been excellent.

Next round – the winner will face either Haleyville or
Cherokee County and Oneonta would travel regardless
of the winner.