Region play is in full swing, which means that the jockeying for playoff spots has begun. Of the four local games tonight, there will be two that will most likely provide pivotal outcomes for when the playoff deck is dealt at the end of the season.
We'll get to those at the end of this column, but first a couple of games that should be one-sided.
And a reminder that if you can't make it to the games tonight (which, with this beautiful fall-like weather, you should make every effort to go), iSchoolSportsNetwork.com will carry the RCHS-Ranburne and Woodland-Ragland contests with free audio and pay-per-view video, and they'll have free audio of the Wadley-Victory Christian game, which is where we start today's picks.
Wadley at Victory Christian
Wadley is on a roll, and the Bulldogs will get one more tuneup tonight before they enter the season-defining teeth of their schedule. The games over the next four weeks after tonight: at Winterboro, at RCHS, home vs. Woodland, home vs. Ragland.
We'll know all we need to know about this Wadley team after those four games.
They'll enter that stretch at 4-0 after a relatively easy win tonight against a 1-2 Lions team.
Tim's pick: Wadley 35, Victory Christian 14
Clay Central at Elmore County
Elmore County is 0-3 and has been outscored 132-49 in those three games. The Panthers also are mired in a 14-game region losing streak that dates back to 2018 and includes 0-6 region records in each of the last two seasons.
Central hasn't been the best version of itself yet this year, but a B-minus Clay Central will be plenty to keep that Elmore County losing streak going.
Tim's pick: Clay Central 38, Elmore County 6
And now on to the two big games this week...
Ragland at Woodland
Woodland is 0-2, but some extenuating circumstances helped lead to that less-than-ideal start. The 'Cats were missing two key starters on the front lines in Calen Houston and Austin Champion in their loss to RCHS two weeks ago.
But the Bobcats should be as close to full health as they've been all season when they host Ragland tonight. That full health will be critical because Woodland sees this game as something of a measuring stick for its team and its prospects this year.
Woodland head coach Blair Armstrong is convinced his team should have won at Ragland last year after they left some points on the field in a 15-6 loss. The sting of that loss never eased as the season went on because Woodland eventually lost to Winterboro and missed out on a chance at a region title.
This year the Bobcats want to make Ragland feel that sting, and they may be catching the Purple Devils at the right time.
Ragland led Winterboro 25-6 at halftime last week before three third-quarter turnovers fueled an improbable Winterboro comeback that sent the Devils to a 42-31 loss. That kind of letdown can have a hangover effect on a high school football team.
Meanwhile Woodland almost put together a stunning comeback of its own after trailing RCHS 32-7 in the second quarter. The Bobcats allowed just one second-half touchdown but couldn't quite complete the comeback in a 40-34 loss.
I know all of that sounds like I'm heading in a certain direction with this pick, but so far through two games the magic that Woodland found last year just hasn't been there in the same capacity. Woodland can win this game, but this is just a hunch that the magic continues to elude them for one more week.
Tim's pick: Ragland 26, Woodland 21
Ranburne at RCHS
One thing RCHS head coach Pat Prestridge has always done has been to tailor his offensive play calling to his team's strengths. If you want to know what he has confidence in just follow the numbers.
Last year RCHS quarterback Avion Willis attempted a total of 96 passes in 11 games for an average of 8.7 throws per game. This year through two games that average has nearly doubled to 16.5 per game. So while at the start of the season this seemed to be a team that was going to be built around a physical running game, it has instead embraced the skills of its promising young quarterback and put the ball in the air more than expected.
Part of that is the development of Willis, who looked very good throwing four touchdowns against Woodland before struggling a little bit last week against LaFayette, and another part is the emergence of receivers Zack Caldwell and SanDavion Hardnett as a couple of reliable pass catchers.
We know Ranburne is going to throw the ball with quarterback Shaun Swofford and receivers Tyler Craft and Jaxon Langley. That trio has combined for 30 completions for 454 yards and four touchdowns through the first three games.
But a promising development in Ranburne's stunning 36-35 win over Vincent last week was the emergence of Landon Harmon as a meaningful yard producer on the ground. If Harmon's performance wasn't a flash in the pan then this Ranburne offense becomes much more balanced, which will only make Swofford and company more effective. That's especially true with high school football's closest version of an unstoppable force in Carson Hall pounding in touchdowns from the goal line.
But RCHS already has that balance. As long as Caldwell is healthy and productive he's shown himself worthy of being the centerpiece of the offense in both the receiving and rushing departments. And Hardnett and Christian Jefferson have shown themselves more than capable of making big plays and finding the end zone.
This feels like such an evenly matched game, and one that will have huge playoff implications come the end of the season. And I do think Ranburne will get some big plays in the passing game. But the consistency and balance of RCHS, plus their slight advantage in overall athleticism makes me think the Tigers will pull this one out.
Tim's pick: RCHS 38, Ranburne 35