The high school football season is a week old, which is just enough for us to make some observations about what we learned from those season-opening contests.
Let's take a look at the local teams in action tonight, including a pair of matchups that pit 2A, Region 4 vs. 1A, Region 5, and the renewal of an annual showdown of a coach versus his former team.
CLAY CENTRAL at BENJAMIN RUSSELL
What we know about Central: Honestly? Not that much yet.
The Vols got off to a slow start offensively and led Chilton County just 14-0 at halftime of their season opener last week. But expecting Central to explode out of the blocks with a new quarterback and four new starters on the offensive line would have been a bit unrealistic.
Fortunately the Central defense was solid, as the only points the Vols allowed came on a defensive fumble recovery for a touchdown by Chilton County late in the game.
The offense will come around. Clay Yates was strong in his first start at quarterback, and those offensive linemen haven't had a lot of time together to iron out their chemistry. The experienced backfield of Elisha McNeil, Terry Heflin and Jakhiem McLemore will help shoulder the burden until all the pieces fall into place.
They'll have to figure things out on the fly however, as Central plays two of its toughest opponents – Benjamin Russell and Sylacauga – over the next two weeks.
Central head coach Danny Horn lost Benjamin Russell in his first game as head coach of the Vols back in 2018, but Central has won the last two. That streak continues tonight.
Tim's pick: Central 34, Benjamin Russell 20
RANBURNE at WADLEY
What we know about Ranburne: They might be the best passing team in Class 2A.
In two starts – one last year in a loss to RCHS as an eighth grader, and his first game this year last week against White Plains – Ranburne quarterback Shaun Swofford has completed 37-of-67 passes (55.2 percent) for 581 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions.
And it's clear he has the confidence of his coaching staff because he attempted at least 30 passes in each one of those starts.
Senior Tyler Craft has been Swofford's go-to guy in both of those games, as Craft has caught nine balls for 205 yards and four touchdowns with Swofford taking the snaps.
Biggest question: If Wadley sells out to stop Swofford, Craft and company, can Ranburne move the ball on the ground? They managed just 10 net rushing yards last week and averaged a paltry 66.8 yards per game on the ground last year.
What we know about Wadley: This is probably the most skilled team that Shenan Motley has had.
It really is amazing watching a team like Wadley evolve from one year to the next. Until their playoff game the 2020 Bulldogs never really found any consistent answers on offense. Points were very hard to come by because Wadley had a predictable approach built around Jacob Marable and Lakevion O'Neal. There wasn't really anyone else that other teams had to prepare to defend.
But watching the 2021 Bulldogs in their opener against Horseshoe Bend, it became evident almost immediately that Marable and O'Neal will have plenty of help this season.
Calon Cottle is the deep threat that Wadley hasn't had in the passing game since the graduation of Jonathan Poole in 2019. Jumall Buchanan (6.6 yards per carry) was just as effective as Marable (5.8 ypc) when he was called upon. And O'Neal has seemingly taken a big step forward in terms of his accuracy in the passing game. He only completed 5-of-12 passing attempts last week, but every one of his passes was on target. With those other options on offense O'Neal was more selective about when he took off and ran, and that worked out beautifully. His 19-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was just his third rushing attempt of the game and it put the game on ice against a gassed Horseshoe Bend defense.
Wadley's new offensive productivity will be put to a different kind of test as it will be charged with keeping pace with a pass-oriented Ranburne offense that can score in a hurry.
In a game that feels very evenly matched, I'll go with the team that has proven versatility on offense against the team that could be elite in one phase of the game.
Tim's pick: Wadley 33, Ranburne 28
RCHS at WOODLAND
What we know about RCHS: This is going to be an old-school, smash-mouth team.
Despite losing the vast majority of its offensive and defensive fronts from last year the Tigers showed an ability to consistently win at the line of scrimmage in their jamboree against Handley and Chilton County two weeks ago. Credit for that starts with seniors Gauge Mitchell and Kristian Lipham, both of whom will be needed in top form in order to match up with a big Woodland line.
Winning at the line of scrimmage will be key for RCHS because they do not have a proven big-play back that is typical of a Pat Prestridge offense. Austin Terrell was the most effective runner in the jamboree, but he's more thunder than lightning when it comes to his running style. Christian Jefferson has the potential to step into that big-play role, but he is a first-time starter and was not able to get going in the jamboree.
What we know about Woodland: Parker Woodham could lead the county in rushing.
Woodham has a good combination of speed and physicality and knows how to get the hard yards. He ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns to account for the only points Woodland scored against Fayetteville in the season opener and is the clear centerpiece of this Woodland offense.
The question is and will continue to be whether Woodland can come up with some sort of big-play threat to offset the inside running of Woodham. Woodland's longest play from scrimmage Friday was 19 yards. That type of offense can work if Woodland can get the lead and keep it, but playing from behind could prove troublesome for the Bobcats as currently constructed.
Given the run-based approaches of both Woodland and RCHS, this week's Grocery Bowl could be a real throwback, low-scoring type of game that will be won in the trenches.
In a game like that where the running attacks may cancel each other out, I think it will be RCHS's quarterback Avion Willis who will give the Tigers the edge.
Woodland hasn't beaten Randolph County since 2013, one of the few losing streaks that the Bobcats did not break in their breakthrough 2020 season. That losing streak extends to eight straight tonight.
Tim's pick: RCHS 20, Woodland 19