This week in HS Sports: Tonight’s must-see Round 3 football playoff games –

Gulf Shores running back Ronnie Royal scores a TD against UMS-Wright in the first half of a prep football game Friday, Sept. 9, 2022, in Mobile, Ala. (Mike Kittrell |
This is an opinion piece.
I’m headed to Gulf Shores tonight to see the Class 5A, Region 1 rematch between Mark Hudspeth’s Dolphins and Jack French’s Faith Academy Rams.
Gulf Shores won 22-12 way back on Sept. 2 on a field both coaches agreed was less than ideal due to several weeks of consistent rain before the game.
I’ve been to the South regional softball tournament at Gulf Shores and multiple Class 4A-7A state track meets at Mickey Miller Blackwell Stadium, but this will be my first football game there.
My buddy, Otto Brewer, has been nudging me to come all year and see Brendon Byrd, Ronnie Royal, JR Gardner and company but, more importantly, to tailgate. I’ve been promised some Poison music prior to the kickoff.
I also think it could be a great game. I’m looking forward to being there.
If I could choose any other statewide games to cover tonight, here are a couple I would look at closely:
Class 7A: Thompson at Hoover … Yes, I know this is the 12th time they’ve played in six years and the sixth straight semifinal game between the two, but the atmosphere at the Hoover Met will be incredible. The first meeting a month ago went to the Bucs, 9-0. It’s hard to believe Mark Freeman’s team will be shut out again. It’s also interesting that Thompson has been starting an 8th-grade quarterback and Hoover a freshman. Which quarterback — or team — will blink? Thompson has won the last three state titles.
Class 6A: Hartselle at Mountain Brook – I think Chris Yeager is one of the best and most underrated coaches in the state for Mountain Brook. Since losing 29-28 to Gardendale on Oct. 21, the Spartans have outscored three opponents 122-20. On the other side, Bryan Moore is 29-5 at Hartselle and 12-0 this season. With reigning champ Clay-Chalkville and runner-up Hueytown already out of the mix, the race to Jordan-Hare is wide open.
Class 4A: Andalusia at Anniston – The two teams are a combined 22-1. The only loss between them was Andalusia’s loss to No. 1 Montgomery Catholic. One big question is the health of Andalusia star junior RB J’Marion Burnette, who did not play in last week’s win at American Christian. Andalusia has outscored opponents 507-167. Anniston has outscored its opponents 466-135. The four teams remaining in 4A South (Handley and Montgomery Catholic are the others) are a combined 45-2.
Class 3A: Mobile Christian at Pike County – Sure, Mobile Christian is 5-7 but you know by now the Leopards’ record is marred by four early-season forfeits. Ronnie Cottrell’s team has new life and is playing like it. Tonight’s matchup between Mobile Christian star defender Sterling Dixon and Pike County’s electric threat Ian Foster should be special.
Enjoy your Friday night. We are less than two weeks away from Jordan-Hare.
Class 7A feedback
I’ve had a lot of feedback on my column earlier this week about the Class 7A football playoff format.
The column recognized the fact that the same four teams (Hoover, Thompson, Auburn and Central-Phenix City) have been mainstays in the state semifinals recently. The Bucs and Warriors will play for the sixth straight time in the north semifinals tonight, while Auburn and Central will play for the fourth straight time in the south.
Is that a problem? Not necessarily, but it would be nice to see some different teams go deep in the playoffs every once in a while. I wrote Wednesday about one playoff format that had been suggested to me by a coach that would include a pod system and eliminate region rematch possibilities until at least the semifinals.
(There were four quarterfinal region rematches this year).
Another well-known 7A coach called me Thursday morning and told me he was going to submit a proposal that would divide the 32 7A teams into two playoff brackets with the larger schools on one side and the smaller schools on the other. Every 7A team would make this playoff bracket and each bracket would have a state champion.
There may be no changes at all, but coaches involved in 7A are at least thinking about it and talking about it.
Fast Start
If the first two weeks of the high school basketball season are any indication, we are in for a competitive 2022-2023.
Last week, two of the state’s best players – Grissom’s RJ Johnson and Baker’s Labaron Philon – faced off in Huntsville.
Johnson, who committed to Alabama earlier this fall, had 36 points, 17 rebounds and 9 assists in leading the Tigers to a 78-65 victory.
Philon, one of the top juniors in the state and the reigning 7A Player of the Year, finished the game with 47 points for the Hornets.
Another well-deserved honor
Congratulations to former AHSAA director of officials Mark Jones, who this week was elected executive director of the Alabama Sports Officials Foundation.
“He will represent the ASOF and strengthen and communicate our organization’s message through the state,” said Robert Lose, ASOF Chairman of the Board.
Thought for the day
“Love is an attitude that assimilates every virtue into a selfless spirt.” – Dr. Joe Stringer
Ben Thomas is the high school sportswriter at He has been named one of the 50 legends of the Alabama Sports Writers Association. Follow him on twitter at @BenThomasPreps or email him at His weekly column is posted each Wednesday and Friday on He can be heard weekly on “Inside High School Sports” on SportsTalk 99.5 FM in Mobile or on the free IHeart Radio App at 2 p.m. Wednesdays.
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