By Wil Crews
Think back to August. Did you expect a full high school football season to happen? Well, regardless of your optimism levels, it did. Despite the challenges faced because of COVID-19 (cancellations, forfeits, missing players and coaches, etc.), area football teams have completed their 2020 football schedules.
In a season unlike any other before, 12 teams near the Lee County area have qualified for the AHSAA or AISA state playoffs. Six of those teams earned the right to host a playoff game and six others hit the road as underdogs.
The playoffs begin this Friday, Nov. 6. The AISA will play three rounds of games, with the championship being held on Nov. 20. The ASHAA playoffs Super 7 Football Championships will be held on Dec. 3 through Dec. 5 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
The following is a list of the playoff games featuring area teams, a brief recap of their season and preview of their round one matchup. (Stats were collected from maxpreps.com and ahsfhs.org. Area teams are underlined.)
AHSAA Class 7A
No. 4 Baker (5–3) at No. 1 Auburn High (9–1): Auburn Head Coach Adam Winegarden is in his sixth season and has the Tigers entering the playoffs with only one loss for the third time in four years. The Tigers lost in the semi-finals of the playoffs last season to Central Phenix City. This year, Auburn averaged 29.8 points per game and allowed an average of 13.1. For the underdogs Baker, second year Head Coach D.D Cowen has his team averaging 27.6 points per game and allowing only 9.6 per contest.
No. 3 Fairhope (8–2) at No. 2 Central-Phenix City (6–4): After long time Head Coach Jamey DuBose left the program after last season, Central brought in former Pinson Valley Head Coach, Patrick Nix. Central struggled to find their identity for most of the season and it showed in their overall record. However, the Red Devils went 5–1 in region play and averaged 35.0 points per game while holding their opponents to an average of 23.1 per contest. Fairhope enter the matchup with the better overall record and the Pirates scored an average of 29.0 points per game while allowing only 16.9. This is a rematch of the first round of the 2019 playoffs where Central defeated Fairhope 45–7.
ASHAA Class 6A
No. 4 Wetumpka (5–5) at No. 1 Opelika (7–2): Opelika Head Coach Erik Speakman has his team as the No. 1 seed for the second season in a row. The Bulldogs have scored an average of 25.2 points per game and given up only 11.8. Wetumpka scraped into the playoffs averaging 27.6 points per game but allowing 24.1 points per game to their opponents. If history means anything, this will be a close game. The last matchup between these two teams was a highly contested regular season game in 2019 that Opelika won 33–32.
ASHAA Class 3A
No. 4 Dadeville (6–3) at No. 1 T.R. Miller (8–2): In his first season as head coach of Dadeville, Roger McDonald has the Tigers in the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Dadeville averaged 20.1 points per game this season while allowing 14.4 points per game to their opponents. T.R. Miller Head Coach Brent Hubbert is in his second year and led his team to the playoff semi-finals last season. T.R Miller averaged 32.1 points per game this season and allowed only 10.4 per contest to the opposition. The last time these two schools faced off was in 2002; T.R. Miller won 35–0.
ASHAA Class 2A
No. 4 J.U. Blacksher (3–6) at No. 1 Lanett (8–2): Lanett went 14–0 last season and won the Class 1A Championship. They jumped up to Class 2A for this season. Head Coach Clifford Story is in his 12th season at the school and despite the class change, led his team to an impressive 8–2 overall record. The Panthers averaged 36.5 points per game on offense but it’s the defense’s 6.3 points per game allowed that really stands out. Their opponent, the typically formidable J.U. Blacksher, are having a down year in Head Coach Wesley Sims’s 11th season. The Blacksher Bulldogs averaged only 15.9 points per game and held opponents to 28.8 per contest. Lanett and J.U. Blacksher have net met in a game.
No. 4 LaFayette (5–4) at No. 1 Leroy (8–1): First year LaFayette Head Coach Juan Williams has his team on a five-game win streak as they enter the playoffs. LaFayette averaged 19.7 points per game this season and gave up an average of 16.9. In his eighth year at Leroy, Head Coach Jason Massey has the Bears atop the Class 2A Region 1 standings for the second year running. The Bears averaged 22.4 points per game and allowed 14.8 points per game to opposing teams. This will be the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
ASHAA Class 1A
No. 3 Florala (8–2) at No. 2 Notasulga (7–1): This is the best year for Notasulga and sixth year Head Coach Anthony Jones since the Blue Devils went 9-3 in his first season in 2015. Notasulga were the No. 2 seed in last year’s playoffs when they were bounced in the second round. This year’s team is improved and averaging 20.8 points per game while holding opponents to a measly 5.5. Their only loss was an overtime thriller against Maplesville (8–2). For Florala, first-year Head Coach Chris Littleton started the season 7–0 before dropping two games and earning a forfeit win to close out the season. The matchups should to be an interesting battle of offense versus defense as Florala averaged 42.3 points per game. This is the best regular season for the Wildcats since the 2007 season. This is the first-ever meeting of the two schools.
No. 3 Loachapoka (5–5) at No. 2 McKenzie (7–2): A matchup of two head coaches in their first seasons with their respective schools. Loachapoka Head Coach Rico Newton has the Indians in the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Loachapoka only averaged 12.6 points per game this season but relied on their defense which allowed 15.4 points per game to the opposition. The McKenzie Tigers went from worst to first (technically second in the region) this season after after finishing 1–9 in both 2018 and 2019. The Tigers averaged 32.1 points per game in the regular season while allowing only 21.1. The last time these two schools met was in 1999; It’s probably safe to say that no players on either team were even alive; Loachapoka won 43–8.
AISA Class AAA
No. 4 Clarke Prep (4–6) at No. 1 Glenwood (8–0): After losing to Bessemer Academy in last year’s championship game, the Glenwood Gators of Phenix City are the No. 1 seed in 2020 after finishing with a perfect regular season record. Glenwood boast a dominant rushing attack that helped lead them to a 43.3 points per game average, while the defense only allowed an average of 11.8 points per game to their opponents. Glenwood have made the playoffs in all five seasons that Jason Gibson had been head coach. Glenwood’s opponent, Clarke Prep, averaged 19.1 points per game on the season and allowed 26.5 points per game to their opponents. Danny Powell is in his second year as head coach at Clarke Prep; they lost in the first round to the 2019 playoffs to Autauga Academy last season.
No. 4 Lee-Scott (2–6) at No. 1 Bessemer Academy (7–2): James Daniel’s first season as head coach of Lee-Scott Academy could have gone better. However, he still managed to get the Warriors into the playoffs. The Warriors averaged 16.8 points per game and allowed 38.8 points per game to their opponents — making them big underdogs on Friday. Bessemer Academy are the defending champions and averaged 36.3 points per game while giving up only 20.6 points per game this season. Bessemer beat Lee-Scott 43–6 earlier this year.
AISA Class AA
No. 4 Autauga Academy (2–6) at No. 1 Chambers Academy (9–1): Josh Allen is in his 16th year as head coach of the Chambers Academy Rebels. Last season, the Rebels lost to Southern Academy in the State Championship Game. Chambers Academy averaged 44.7 points per game and allowed only 12.0. Their opponents, the Autauga Academy Generals, went 9–2 last season and won the AISA Class AA Championship but have struggled through this COVID-defined season. They come into the playoffs averaging 23.4 points per game and allowing 26.8 per contest. Chambers County are 2–7–0 all time against Autauga Academy.
No 4. Springwood (4–6) at No. 1 Escambia Academy (8–1): The Springwood Wildcats are led by third-year Head Coach John Gartman. After failing to reach the playoff in his first season, Gartman led the Wildcats to a first-round exit last season and will be looking to improve on that mark this time around. Springwood averaged 21.0 points per game and allowed 32.9 to opposing teams. Their opponent, the favorited Escambia, lost to Autauga Academy in the AISA Class AA Championship last season. The Wildcats averaged 32.2 points per game this season while allowing 12.7 points per game. Springwood are 0–2 all-time against Escambia Academy.