You don't need me to tell you that things have been weird so far this football season. For starters, it's week five of the high school football season, which means that the local high school football teams will be halfway done with their regular seasons before the SEC plays its first snap.
Also, we're halfway through the year and Handley has only played two official games, with another one (next week against Jacksonville) already canceled.
That weirdness has been a big reason why I've held off on doing my weekly (online exclusive!) Football Friday picks column. But two things have led me to emerge from my cave, shave my back hair and get things going again.
1. The SEC does finally start play this week. Fans will be sparse, the vibe won't be exactly the same, but this is the week that it feels like college football is actually starting.
2. This week has a kick-a-- schedule of high school football games. Rare is the week when I truly wish that I could simultaneously be at four different games at the same time, but this is definitely one of them.
So with that in mind, here come the picks, along with a brief synopsis of what I've seen out of each of the local teams so far.
RCHS at Wadley
For a team with one senior, Wadley has been impressively competitive in all of its games. Wadley should have a sign at the gate of Curtis Lynch Memorial Field that says, “Team under renovation. Please excuse the mess.”
Instead Wadley is 2-3 and in the thick of the playoff hunt, despite the fact that its starting fullback is 12 years old. It seems like every other play for Wadley, it's a seventh grader doing this, or an eighth grader doing that.
That's a good sign for the long-term future, but a not-so-good sign for the immediate future.
Randolph County is coming to town, newly minted as the No. 1 team in the state in class 2A. The Tigers have rushed for almost 400 yards per game in their first four games. Their offensive line is big and powerful. Running back J.D. Till is playing his first year of varsity football and is averaging over 200 yards per game on the ground. Every time J.D. Till is in the open field running all by himself (which happens a lot) he's probably thinking to himself “I should have started doing this way before I was a senior.”
Randolph County is just too big and powerful, and they should end up getting the best of this young Wadley squad.
RCHS 38, Wadley 13
Handley at Lanett
When you talk about Lanett, the Storys are always the story. (See what I did there?) Yes, superstar quarterback Kristian Story is gone (to Alabama), but there are Storys yet to be told (this is fun) for this Lanett team.
Obviously there's head coach Clifford Story, who has led his team to a state title in two of the last three seasons. Then there's his 250-lb., 11th-grade son Caden, who is that rare two-way player who lines up at both quarterback and defensive tackle.
And don't get caught up in the 4A team vs. the 2A team narrative. These are two quality football teams regardless of classification. Don't forget that Lanett has won the last three games in this annual week-5 rivalry, last year as a 1A team.
Lanett won't play many teams that can match up with them athlete for athlete, but Handley is definitely one of them. Tae Meadows is a beast with the ball in his hands. So far this season, on average, one out of every five Tae Meadows carries ends in the end zone (48 carries, 9 touchdowns). And Handley's defense has championship caliber talent starting with that ferocious front four of Dylan Brooks, Jake Cottle, Brian Joiner and Ahmad Staples.
Handley won't run circles around Lanett like they did against Cleburne County last week, but they should win relatively comfortably.
Handley 40, Lanett 20
Pleasant Grove at Clay Central
You know it's a big week of high school football when there's a high-profile rematch of last year's state championship game, and that's NOT the game I'm going to.
One thing I've learned about Central head coach Danny Horn over the last two years is that the bigger the game, the more he talks down his chances of winning. This week is no exception, as Horn's main talking points were the lessons his team would take away from this game and how it will prepare them for tough games down the road.
That kind of talk is understandable given what I'm about to say.
Pleasant Grove is loaded.
This is a team that lost by one point to the No. 2 team in Class 6A, Oxford, earlier this year. They have a D-1 quarterback, a D-1 receiver and 10 linemen listed at 280 lbs or more. 10!
We've seen time and time again that Danny Horn's teams do not have to match talent for talent in order to win, but the scales may be tipped too heavily against them in this one.
Also, let's not forget that Central has not won in week five in either Horn's previous two seasons, but as we all know those two seasons turned out just fine.
Central just set a school record last week with its 14th straight victory. That streak comes to an end tonight.
Pleasant Grove 32, Central 28
Ranburne at Woodland
The year was 2011. Life was a simpler then. Buffalo roamed the plains, the automobile made its first appearance and Woodland beat Ranburne in a football game.
Okay, 2011 wasn't THAT long ago, but for Woodland fans it sure must seem like it. The Bobcats have lost nine straight to their closest rival. While the first three of those were close, the last six (with one exception) have not been. Outside of Woodland's 13-12 near upset in 2017, the average margin in those last six games was Ranburne 39, Woodland 7.
So why I am going to Woodland tonight?
Because I believe that this is Woodland's best chance since the 2014 playoff game to defeat its neighbors to the north. (That 13-12 game notwithstanding. That kind of came out of nowhere and would have been a true surprise had Woodland pulled it off.)
For starters, Ranburne is not at full strength. The Bulldogs are missing their best overall player (lineman Carson Hall) and arguably their most versatile offensive player (Tylor Cornwell) due to injury.
Ranburne still boasts a potent passing game, but its defense hasn't really stopped anyone since Hall was hurt. The Bulldogs have given up 123 points in their last three games.
Meanwhile Woodland is trending upward. The Bobcats are 2-2. The losses came in a game against RCHS that had a 7-6 score at halftime, and then in a 15-6 decision against Ragland in a game that may have been Woodland's worst performance of the season.
These teams should be evenly matched, but the question will be, can Woodland get over the mental hurdle that Ranburne presents? The seniors on this Woodland team were in the third grade the last time Woodland beat Ranburne. Three different coaches have roamed the Woodland sideline in that time without ever winning this game.
With that said, I'll ask the question one more time. Why am I going to Woodland tonight?
Because I want to be there when the streak ends.
Woodland 27, Ranburne 24