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Class 7A teams will decide the semifinals on Friday, while the rest of the AHSAA is playing the quarterfinals. We take a closer look at a key game from each classification.
Thompson at Hoover: Buckle up for plenty of defense in this one. Hoover can make a case – a strong case – as the top defensive team in the state, regardless of classification. Thompson can certainly attest to the Bucs’ defensive strength after falling to Hoover, 9-0, in the regular season. Thompson moved the ball well that night, gaining over 300 yards, but turnovers and other miscues kept them out of the end zone. The only previous time a Mark Freeman-coached Thompson team was shut out in a game was in a 20-0 loss to Hoover on Oct. 21, 2016. The last non-Hoover team to shut out the Warriors came in a 10-0 loss to Tuscaloosa County on Oct. 17, 2014.
Take away the first two games and the Warriors also play strong defense. Clemson commitment Peter Woods is as good of a defensive lineman as there is in the state. Hoover’s offense scored just one touchdown in the first meeting.
What makes it even more interesting, in a game between two of the top teams in the largest division in the state, is they both start young quarterbacks. Trent Seaborn, an 8th grader, started the past two games for Thompson and freshman Noah Schuback will probably start for Hoover.
The atmosphere will be like no other in the state at the Hoover Met. It’s the sixth consecutive semifinal meeting between the schools. Thompson won the past four.
Hartselle at Mountain Brook: Hartselle is an explosive offensive team. Mountain Brook has a history of slowing down explosive offensive teams. It makes for an intriguing matchup between a pair of teams that have never met on the football field.
Hartselle quarterback Jack Smith sets the table for the Tigers and running back Ri Fletcher who eats up the yardage. Fletcher has a team-high 17 touchdowns. Smith has 18 touchdown passes and 12 touchdown runs. Mountain Brooks gives up just 11.9 points per game behind linebackers Trent Wright and Vaughn Frost.
Mountain Brook advanced to the semifinals in each of the past two seasons but hasn’t been to a state championship game since 1996. This is just the second time since 2012 that Hartselle played in a quarterfinal game.
Faith Academy at Gulf Shores: Dynamic playmaker Ronnie Royal leads Gulf Shores into the playoff quarterfinals for the first time in school history. Royal has amassed nearly 2,000 yards on the ground and through the air and combined for 30 touchdowns. He’s also one of the team’s top defensive players. Mark Hudspeth’s team is 11-1 with one of those wins a 22-12 triumph over Faith Academy early in the season.
Gulf Shores, which began playing football in 2000, is making only its fourth playoff appearance. Faith Academy (10-2) is making its fifth consecutive playoff appearance under veteran coach Jack French. This is the third consecutive season that French’s team has advanced to at least the quarterfinals. Faith Academy’s two losses came by a combined 11 points. The losses came to Gulf Shores and UMS-Wright (21-10). Both of those teams are still in the playoffs.
Andalusia at Anniston: Anniston beat its first 11 opponents, winning by a combined 466-135. There were some close games mixed in, including a 30-28 victory over Piedmont. Offensive lineman RyQueeze McElderry is a 6-foot-3, 340-pound Alabama commitment. Quarterback Kamron Harris is a 6-foot-2, 215-pound South Carolina commitment. He will probably play another position in college but is a playmaker for the Bulldogs.
Andalusia dropped its season finale to unbeaten Montgomery Catholic but rebounded with convincing playoff wins. Trent Taylor’s Andalusia program played in the semifinals five times since the beginning of the 2016 season but hasn’t made it to a championship game in that stretch. Running back J’Marion Burnette looks to lead the way for the Bulldogs.
Gordo at Piedmont: Quarterbacks Jack Hayes of Piedmont and Brax Garrison of Gordo grab a share of the spotlight in this matchup of Class 3A powerhouses. Hayes is basically rewriting the AHSAA record book while all Garrison does is throw touchdowns and avoid interceptions.
Gordo has playmakers all over the field. The Green Wave is averaging 50 points per game and outscored two playoff opponents, 94-20. This will be the first time in the postseason that Gordo plays on the road. Steve Smith’s Piedmont team is one of the most playoff-tested programs in the state. The Bulldogs have won five state titles under Smith, including last season.
Clarke County at Highland Home: Clarke County is the defending Class 2A champion. Stacy Luker’s team is also probably a considerable underdog in this one. Clarke County began the season by losing four of the first five games but has been solid since. The Bulldogs are 6-1 since snapping a three-game losing streak.
Highland Home’s lone bump in the road is an 8-7 loss to Reeltown in the regular season finale. The Flying Squadron nearly saw its season end last Friday at Ariton. It took three touchdowns in the final three minutes, including a pair of interception returns for a score by Tyler Chaney, to pull out a 44-28 victory.
Millry at Sweet Water: Millry and Sweet Water have a long history. Sweet Water has a long history of beating Millry. Friday night’s game marks the 35th meeting between the schools. Sweet Water leads the series 30-3-1 with victories in the last 15 meetings.
Millry’s lone loss came in the second game of the season. Since then, the Wildcats have won 10 games. The Wildcats are playing in the quarterfinals for just the second time, matching the 2000 team, and have never made it past that point. Sweet Water won a state championship last season and has advanced to at least the semifinals seven times since 2010.
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