One to watch

Handley running back Devontae Houston is on the verge of the school's single-season rushing record, one of multiple story lines to watch during the 2019 high school football postseason.

In each of the last three years one team in the Leader's coverage area has reached the state finals. In each of the past five years at least one team has reached the state semifinals.

This year five of our six local teams have reached the postseason, and four of those enter as No. 2 seeds. And with some quality teams and some interesting brackets there's a chance at least one of those five teams catches fire and makes another run through November.

Can Clay Central successfully defend its state title? Will RCHS have yet another rematch with Piedmont? Will UMS-Wright actually have to come to Handley?

Get the answers to all these questions and more in our playoff preview below, where we'll look at each team's first-round matchup and look at the past, present and future of each team's playoff run.

Wadley (5-4) at Isabella (10-0)

Past: Wadley has never lost to Isabella in five meetings. The most recent game between these two teams was in 2017 when Wadley won 55-19 in the second round of the playoffs. That was Wadley's best team in a decade, and maybe ever.

Present: Two years later the tables have turned, as Isabella is coming off of its first undefeated regular season since 2002. That perfect record includes a 48-34 win over perennial 1A powerhouse Maplesville and just the second region title in school history.

However, there's reason to believe that this won't be your typical one-versus-four blowout.

Wadley head coach Shenan Motley has said repeatedly over the past few weeks that when his team is healthy he believes they can play with anybody in class 1A. Their near-miss against Lanett (they failed on a two-point conversion try that would have given them the lead in the game's final minute) early in the season backs that up.

Wadley is as healthy as its been all season, so the Bulldogs could make life difficult for Isabella, especially if the Mustangs are expecting an easy first round.

Future: If Wadley does pull the upset in round one, they slide into that No. 1 slot in the bracket, which means they'll probably play Millry at home in round two before a potential rematch with Lanett in round three. If Wadley gets some momentum and builds some confidence it's not hard to see how they could go on a run.

Ranburne (9-1) vs. Cold Springs (5-5)

Past: This will be the first time these two schools have ever met on the football field. Cold Springs has made the playoffs just eight times in its 50 seasons of football, and in seven of those eight appearances they have lost in the first round. There's no reason to think this trip will be any different than those other seven.

Present: The story of the 2019 playoffs for Ranburne doesn't truly begin until the second round, where the Bulldogs will take on defending state champion Fyffe. Ranburne has shown that it can play with (Ohatchee) and even beat (Reeltown) some of the best 2A teams in the state, and the Bulldogs will need every bit of that mettle next week.

Future: If Ranburne does shock the state and pull off the upset of Fyffe, the path doesn't get any easier after that. They would probably face Red Bay in round three and then have a rematch at Ohatchee in the semifinals.

Midfield (6-3) at RCHS (9-1)

Past: This is the first ever meeting between these two schools. Midfield has been in the playoffs in 25 of the last 28 seasons, but has only reached the state semifinals once in that time (in 1998).

RCHS has been in the state semifinals in three of the last four seasons and finished as the state runner up in 2017.

Present: RCHS has now reached the playoffs in six straight seasons, the first time that has happened in school history. They also have an old-school type of team built around a suffocating run defense and a wishbone offense that has been methodically unstoppable over the past month. This team appears to be built for the playoffs.

Future: It's easy to look ahead in the 3A North bracket and anticipate rematches against Walter Wellborn and Piedmont in rounds three and four, but don't look past Westminster Christian in round two. The Wildcats missed two extra points in a 27-26 loss to Piedmont in round three last year. They haven't had nearly as dominant of a regular season this year as they did a year ago, but if RCHS wants those rematches in rounds three and four they can't overlook this Westminster team in round two.

West Blocton (5-5) at Handley (6-4)

Past: Anyone who knows their recent Handley history knows that Handley's 2016 run to the 4A state championship began with a first-round home game against West Blocton. Handley won that game 49-7. In fact, West Blocton has been in the playoffs 10 times since 2004, and they only have one playoff win in those 10 appearances.

Present: It may seem strange when you think about it, but Handley is looking for its first playoff win since beating Madison Academy for the 4A state championship in 2016. The Tigers appear to be ready to get over that hump. The true intrigue of this game will be when Devontae Houston breaks the Handley single-season rushing record. He enters the game with 2,035 yards, just 17 short of Stacy Garrett's 1991 record of 2,052.

Future: Handley will be a heavy favorite to win in the first round Friday night, so the next natural question for Handley fans is, when will they have to travel to UMS-Wright? Handley and UMS-Wright have played six times since 2002, all in the playoffs and all at UMS-Wright. If they meet this year, it will be in the third round, and (pause for effect) that game could be in Roanoke.

Whether it works out that way depends on A) Handley winning its second round game (obviously), probably at Catholic Montgomery and B) Montevallo beating Talladega in round one.

If Montevallo wins that game, then UMS-Wright will be at home in the first two rounds. Handley's second round game will be on the road regardless of the who opponent is. The team that has traveled the most in the previous rounds is the home team. By round three Handley will have traveled once, UMS will not have traveled, so the round three game would be in Roanoke.

If Talladega beats Montevallo, UMS will travel in round two and the potential third-round game would once again be in Mobile. So Handley fans, root hard for Montevallo Friday night.

Sardis (5-5) at Clay Central (8-2)

Past: Sardis and Central will play each other for the first time Friday. Sardis has been in the playoffs 14 times in school history. The Lions have won just two playoff games all time and have never advanced past the second round. Central is in its eighth year of existence and has never missed the playoffs. And only once in their previous seven appearances have they lost in the first round.

Present: Central begins its defense of its state title with a game that should be little more than a formality. The Vols once again have state championship caliber talent, and it should be on display in a convincing way Friday night.

Future: Much like Ranburne, Central's playoffs really start in round two, where they will go on the road to take on the undefeated No. 1 team in the state. The difference for Central is that they will be familiar with that second round opponent as the Vols nearly knocked off Jasper during a week five regular season 2OT thriller. Central lost that game 35-34 after a failed two-point conversion try in the second overtime. The margin between those two teams is obviously razor thin, but if Central can win the rematch next week there's a pretty clear path back to the finals for the Vols.

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