This week in HS Sports: Today’s football playoff round three must-sees

This is an opinion piece.

Heading to Gulf Shores tonight to watch the Class 5A Region 1 rematch between Mark Hudspeth’s Dolphins and Jack French’s Faith Academy Rams.

Gulf Shores won 22-12 on Sept. 2 on a field that both coaches believed was less than ideal due to several weeks of continuous rain leading up to the game.

I’ve been to the South Regional Softball Tournament in Gulf Shores and several Class 4A-7A State Track Meetings at Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium, but this will be my first football game there.

My pal, Otto Brewer, has been making me want to come and see Brendon Byrd, Ronnie Royal, JR Gardner and co. all year long, but more importantly, to the tailgate. I was promised poison music before kick-off.

I also think it could be a great game. I look forward to being there.

If I could pick other national games tonight, here are a few I’d check out:

Class 7A: Thompson at Hoover … Yes, I know this is the 12th time in six years and the sixth straight semifinal game between the two, but the atmosphere at the Hoover Met is going to be amazing. The first meeting a month ago went 9-0 to the Bucs. It’s hard to believe that Mark Freeman’s team will be left out again. It’s also interesting that Thompson is picking up an 8th grade quarterback and Hoover is picking up a freshman. Which quarterback — or team — will flash? Thompson has won the last three state titles.

Class 6A: Hartselle at Mountain Brook – I think Chris Yeager is one of the best and most underrated coaches in the state for Mountain Brook. Since the 29-28 loss to Gardendale on October 21, the Spartans have beaten three opponents by 122-20. On the other hand, Bryan Moore is 29-5 at Hartselle and 12-0 this season. With reigning champion Clay-Chalkville and runner-up Hueytown already out, the race for Jordan-Hare is open.

Class 4A: Andalucia in Anniston – The two teams are a combined 22-1. The only defeat between them was Andalucia’s loss to Montgomery Catholic No. 1. A big question is the health of Andalucia’s star junior RB J’Marion Burnette, who missed last week’s American Christian win. Andalucia has surpassed opponents 507-167. Anniston has outscored his opponents 466-135. The four remaining teams in 4A South (Handley and Montgomery Catholic are the others) are 45-2 combined.

Class 3A: Mobile Christian in Pike County – Sure, Mobile Christian is 5-7, but you know by now that the Leopards’ record is marred by four preseason losses. Ronnie Cottrell’s team has new life and plays like this. Tonight’s matchup between Mobile Christians star defenseman Sterling Dixon and Pike County electric threat Ian Foster should be special.

Enjoy your Friday night. We are less than two weeks from Jordan-Hare.

Class 7A feedback

I received a lot of feedback on my column earlier this week on the format of the Class 7A football playoffs.

The column acknowledged the fact that the same four teams (Hoover, Thompson, Auburn and Central-Phenix City) have been the mainstays in the state semifinals of late. The Bucs and Warriors are playing in the North semifinals for a sixth straight season tonight, while Auburn and Central are playing in the South for a fourth straight season.

Is this a problem? Not necessarily, but it would be nice to see different teams going deep into the playoffs every now and then. I wrote Wednesday about a playoff format suggested to me by a coach that would involve a pod system and eliminate rematch opportunities in the region until at least the semifinals.

(There were four rematches in the Quarterfinals region that year).

Another well-known 7A coach called me Thursday morning and said he would come up with a proposal that would split the 32 7A teams into two playoff groups, with the bigger schools on one side and the smaller schools on the other . Any 7A team would make that playoff bracket and each bracket would have a state champion.

There may not be any changes at all, but the coaches involved in 7A are at least thinking about it and talking about it.

Fast start

If the first two weeks of the high school basketball season are any indication, we’re in for a competitive 2022-2023.

Last week in Huntsville, two of the best players in the state — Grissom’s RJ Johnson and Baker’s Labaron Philon — faced off.

Johnson, signed for Alabama earlier in the fall, had 36 points, 17 rebounds and 9 assists to lead the Tigers to a 78-65 win.

Philon, one of the state’s top juniors and reigning 7A Player of the Year, finished the game with 47 points for the Hornets.

Another well-deserved honor

Congratulations to former AHSAA Officers Director Mark Jones on being elected Executive Director of the Alabama Sports Officials Foundation this week.

“He will represent ASOF and strengthen and communicate our organization’s message through the state,” said Robert Lose, ASOF Board Chairman.

thought for the day

“Love is an attitude that assimilates every virtue into a selfless spirit.” -Dr. Joe Stringer

Ben Thomas is a high school sportswriter at AL.com. He was named one of the 50 Legends of the Alabama Sports Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter @BenThomasPreps or email him at [email protected] His weekly column is published on AL.com every Wednesday and Friday. He can be heard weekly on “Inside High School Sports” on SportsTalk 99.5 FM in Mobile or Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m. on the free IHeart Radio app.

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