E.A. Sports Today

Setting the Pace

One man’s insights on the week’s Calhoun County football games – without the pomposity, provincialism and pithy platitudes of other pick-em pieces in town

By Jay Pace
For East Alabama Sports Today

The wait is almost over. With another long, hot and withering off-season now behind us, the most splendid time of year is finally here. No more off-season conditioning programs. No more speculation. No more contemplation. Now, it’s time to settle it on the field.

Between the sidelines. Mano-a-mano.


As summer fades and leaves turn brown and fall, eventually we’ll find out who’s the best high school football teams of them all. Which Calhoun County teams are good enough to bring a blue map home this fall? Who’s the area’s top player in 2017?

Those are the questions fans, media and even players have spent all off-season pondering.

Speaking of questions and blue maps, can the Piedmont Bulldogs, winners of 25 straight, three-peat in Class 3A? How will they fare in the post-Taylor Hayes era?

With Savion Bethune back under center for Anniston, how much better will Eddie Bullock’s Bulldogs fare after losing the quarterback for the year a week before the 2016 season opener?

Can first-year head coach Mark Sanders restore the magic at Donoho much the way he did at Victory Christian?

Back at 100 percent, how many yards can Keenan Woodruff run for behind a powerful Alexandria offensive line? Can the Valley Cubs return to postseason form after missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2013?

All those questions — and more — are soon to be answered.

It’s football time folks; let’s get to it.

Wellborn (0-0) vs. NORTH JACKSON (0-0)
These two teams couldn’t wait until Friday night, so they agreed to get this party started a day early at Jacksonville State. Coming off uncharacteristically disappointing seasons last year, the Panthers and Chiefs look to get back on track. Kudos to Jeff Smith for scheduling such a quality non-region opponent. The Chiefs are the real deal. This one should be an instant classic. Chiefs by a whisker.

Talladega (0-0) at ALEXANDRIA (0-0)
The Talladega Ted Darby Era begins Friday night in “Death Valley,” but the Valley Cubs are looking to spoil the debut while getting their own season off to a good start. With a clean bill of health, Alexandria senior RB Keenan Woodruff looks to prove his monster sophomore season was no fluke. A year after narrowly missing the playoffs, the Valley Cubs don’t want to become the first Alexandria team since the 2002 squad to miss the postseason in back-to-back years. With a chip on their shoulder and a point to prove, the Valley Cubs respond loudly with a win.

Trinity (0-0) at JACKSONVILLE (0-0)
For the first time since 1989, Trinity will have a new face roaming the sidelines as Barry Loyal replaces the retired Randy Ragsdale who turned the Montgomery school into a state power in his nearly three decades on the job. Jacksonville coach Clint Smith has lost only one season opener in his last 10 years as a head coach. His Golden Eagles will get another season started the right way.

Ragland (0-0) at OHATCHEE (0-0)
Coming off their best season in school history, Scott Martin and the Ohatchee Indians must deal with life after Taylor (Eubanks) and (Austin) Tucker. It won’t be easy, for sure, but they will pass the test in the opener with a win over the Purple Devils.

HILLCREST-TUSCALOOSA (0-0) at Oxford (0-0)
This one may well prove to be the best game of them all in this first week as a pair of 6A heavyweights square off at Lamar Field. This one is a toss up. But since I’ve got to pick one, I’ll give a slight edge to the visitors from T-Town. The second-ranked Patriots win a squeaker.

Piedmont (0-0) at ROCKMART, GA (0-1)
Folks, Rockmart ain’t no joke. And if you don’t believe me just ask last year’s Region 5 champion Cherokee County, which got smacked around in a 54-28 loss in the 2016 season opener. Piedmont is a different animal to be sure but those Georgia boys know how to play some football – and they’ve already played one (losing to Cedartown 34-26). This one is going be a lot of fun to watch in person — especially for the Rockmart fans who will see their team stun the Bulldogs and stop Alabama’s longest streak at 25.

PLEASANT VALLEY (0-0) at Vincent (0-0)
Last year the Raiders issued a 42-0 beat down over the Yellow Jackets in coach Wiley McKeller’s debut. Expect more of the same in 2017.

Weaver (0-0) at HAYDEN (0-0)
After a slow start to his Hayden tenure, coach Keith Register’s Wildcats have turned the corner over the last two seasons. And while Weaver is going to make plenty of noise in 2017, the season gets off to a tough start vs. the Class 5A Wildcats. There is strength in numbers and Hayden has plenty.


Munford (0-0) at CLAY CENTRAL (0-0)
For the fourth time in as many seasons, the Volunteers and Lions square off in the season opener. The Vols have won the previous three meetings but they’ve all been close. Hard to win if you don’t score. The Vols defense is what you’d expect. Central Clay makes it four in a row.

Cherokee County (0-0) at CEDARTOWN, GA. (1-0)
Since arriving from Springville in 2001, Tripp Curry has transformed his Cherokee County squad into a perennial contender in Class 4A. With a healthy Tyren Dupree back for his senior season, the Warriors are once again among the favorites in Class 4A. That said, the Cedartown Bulldogs are pretty good in their own right. Really good.

Last week: 0-0 (.000). Bonus picks 0-0 (.000)

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