By Lee Davis
It seems incredible to believe, but we crossed the midpoint of the 2016 high school football regular season last week.
While none of the eight Over the Mountain teams have made it through mid-September with a perfect record, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that at least three have a chance for memorable years. Here is a quick look at where they stand.
Hoover – Alabama’s perennial powerhouse looked vulnerable at times last season, losing twice, to cross-town rival Spain Park and to Vestavia Hills. The Bucs have bounced back in 2016, despite an early loss to Allen, Texas. Hoover may not be the offensive juggernaut that many of its championship teams were, but the team looked like its old self in solid wins over Mountain Brook and Spain Park. Place kicker Barrett Picking is emerging as one of the Bucs’ most dangerous threats and the defensive unit has only yielded two touchdowns against in-state opponents. There are challenges ahead, but Hoover is capable of going undefeated the rest of the year.
Mountain Brook – After consecutive 3-7 seasons, the Spartans may be the area’s most pleasant surprise with an impressive 4-1 start. Last Friday’s upset of Spain Park probably shows that Mountain Brook is a legitimate contender for a playoff spot in Class 7A’s toughest region. The bad news is that potential traps such as Vestavia Hills, Huffman and Oak Mountain await in the second half of the schedule. Mountain Brook is clearly improved over recent years, and the last five weeks will determine exactly how far it has come.
Spain Park – Last season’s Class 7A runner-ups claimed a close win against Gadsden and took impressive victories over Muscle Shoals and Vestavia Hills before falling hard to Hoover. Things got worse the next week, as Mountain Brook stunned the Jags at home. Tough region games in the season’s second half might make it difficult for Spain Park to avoid yet another loss.
Vestavia Hills – After a 9-3 record against one of the state’s toughest schedules last season, the Rebels had high expectations in 2016. They could still be met, though the path is rugged. Double digit losses to Spain Park and Oak Mountain have put an early damper on the schedule, but coach Buddy Anderson and his team traditionally are at their best when the chips are down. Vestavia’s win over Huffman last Friday was evidence of that trait. The Rebels need to keep it going as Mountain Brook, Hoover and Shades Valley are just three of the teams that will put them to the test. On the bright side, few have mastered the Bucs over the past two decades as consistently as Anderson and his troops.
Homewood – For each of the past four consecutive seasons, the Patriots won exactly nine games. Homewood is capable of exceeding that total, despite the road being a little rockier than some expected. The Patriots needed a late comeback to defeat Pelham in the opener at Samford University, before losing consecutively to Vestavia and Parker. After edging Jackson-Olin, Homewood looked to be on track, but a decisive loss to Helena is a step backward. The good news for the Patriots is that there is still a lot of football to be played.
Oak Mountain – Many observers wrote off the Eagles after an 0-3 start that saw the defense yield an average of 34 points a game. To the team’s credit, it rallied with a 34-7 rout of a good Vestavia team. Oak Mountain piled up more than 400 yards of offense against the Rebels and had plenty of offense in the follow up win over Thompson. So now the question is, which Oak Mountain team will show up for the rest of the season? It’s hard to say, although the Eagles will have the advantage of playing Hoover, Mountain Brook and Spain Park at home.
Briarwood – The Lions’ pre-season move to a smaller-school Class 5A was expected to be a plus for the program, and so far it has been. Briarwood looked good in a rout of Moody in its first region game and followed that with a head-turning 15-14 upset of Wenonah. Under coach Fred Yancey, the Lions have qualified for the playoffs for 23 consecutive seasons. Don’t expect that streak to be snapped this year.
John Carroll Catholic – The Cavaliers are still in the middle of a massive rebuilding project under new coach Logan Colafrancesco. Wins are still difficult to achieve, although the good news is that John Carroll is still fighting to restore the school’s proud football tradition. The turnaround will come, even if it’s not this year.