E.A. Sports Today

Underdogs show their teeth

Five unranked teams are two wins away from state titles

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

It’s easy to recognize and follow the favorites in the state high school football playoffs, but if you’re looking for a Cinderella story, this year has plenty.

Six of the seven No. 1 teams in the final regular-season statewide sportswriters poll, three defending champions and 11 undefeated teams are still alive as the playoffs move into the state semifinals this weekend.

Now, consider the challengers.

Five teams still alive are unranked and four of them – 5A Madison County (10-3), 4A Cordova (10-3) and 1As Billingsley (10-2) and Marion County (8-5) – have been all season yet now are two wins away from glory. Pleasant Grove (11-2), the team Madison County plays in the North final Friday, was in the poll for the first four weeks of the season (starting at No. 2), but fell out and has not been back since.

Madison County coach Scott Peavey has mixed feelings about it.

“It’s nice to be the underdog,” the former Wellborn head coach said. “It takes some pressure off your kids. There’s nothing wrong with being the underdog.

“But in other terms you do want other people to respect you and realize you have good players, too. For the longest time people didn’t respect Huntsville football and I’d like to think we’re kind of changing that a little bit at a time.”

Peavey’s Tigers lost two close games at the start of the season and never broke into the Top 10, even after they started lighting up the scoreboard and beat a 6A team in their regular-season final. They led at some point in all three of the losses, even the 52-6 loss to Walker with eight fumbles that was the springboard for their current eight-game winning streak.

One of those eight wins was over Alexandria in the first round of the playoffs.

“We won 92 of the 96 minutes the first two weeks,” Peavey said. “You could say we’re one snap and an illegal fake punt away from being a one-loss team. I think those losses built some character.”

Pleasant Grove was slow out of the gate, too. The Spartans were preseason No. 2 and won their opener, then lost two in a row. One of the losses came to Parker, a team Madison County beat in overtime in Round 2 to score Huntsville football some points over its Birmingham brethren.

Marion County, meanwhile, was never more than one game over .500 during the regular season and was the No. 3 seed out of its region. Billingsley lost two of its first three games — to Friday opponent Maplesville and 3A semifinalist Gordo, both undefeated. Cordova wasn’t in the preseason poll after moving up to 4A and lost its opener.

“You tell your kids all the time football in the North part of the state doesn’t get the respect we think it deserves,” Peavey said. “(Huntsville has) been a basketball town … but there’ve been teams that have played well for years here.

“Even though football in this part of the state isn’t (thought about highly) or hasn’t been I think people need to start taking notice of it and know we play pretty good football here.”

At least the seniors on Madison County and Marion County know what it’s like to be ranked; both teams were in the poll last year. Cordova hadn’t been in since the final poll of 2010 and Billingsley hasn’t been ranked since September 1998.

Peavey said a state championship for the Tigers or one of the other unranked teams would be a “neat thing for this part of the country” and suggested it might even shake up the way poll things get done.

“It’ll probably force somebody to re-evaluate the system and find a different way to evaluate it,” he said. “It almost feels like whoever does the voting has a little too much power in it; it may shift the balance of power.”

Friday’s games

No. 2 Maplesville (12-0) at Billingsley (10-2)
(Maplesville leads series 38-26)

Marion County (8-5) at No. 3 Hubbertville (12-0)
(Marion County leads 36-13)

No. 2 Washington County (13-0) at No. 6 Elba (13-0)
(Series tied 2-2)

No. 5 Ranburne (12-0) at No. 1 Fyffe (13-0)
(Fyffe leads 1-0)

No. 4 Gordo (13-0) at No. 2 Dale County (13-0), Midland City
(First-ever meeting)

No. 1 Madison Academy (12-1) at No. 3 Glencoe (13-0)
(First-ever meeting)

No. 2 Leeds (12-1) at No. 1 UMS-Wright (12-1), Mobile
(First-ever meeting)

No. 4 Deshler (12-1) at Cordova (10-3)
(First-ever meeting)

No. 4 Jackson (11-2) at No. 1 St. Paul’s Episcopal (13-0), Mobile
(St. Paul’s leads 1-0)

Madison County (10-3) at Pleasant Grove (11-2)
(First-ever meeting)

No. 3 Saraland (12-1) at No. 4 Spanish Fort (12-1)
(Spanish Fort leads 2-0)

No. 5 Florence (11-2) at No. 1 Clay-Chalkville (13-0)
(Florence leads 2-0)

Finals (Dec. 3)
at Auburn
No. 1 Hoover (11-2) vs. No. 8 Prattville (11-2), 7 p.m.
(Prattville leads 3-2)

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