Oct. 31—It's almost as if Mother Nature knows it's time for playoffs.
It's been a warm October so far, but this week a cold front has moved in — just in time for the postseason.
The AHSAA's annual football playoffs will begin next week with 32 teams (16 in Class 7A) in each classification hoping to be the final one standing.
This year, nine teams in The Decatur Daily's coverage area will be competing in the playoffs. Those nine are Austin, Hartselle, Athens, Lawrence County, West Morgan, Priceville, Tanner, Hatton and Decatur Heritage.
Five of those teams — Austin, Hartselle, West Morgan, Tanner and Decatur Heritage — will host first-round playoff games.
For those nine teams, this last week is a chance to warm up before playoffs, at least figuratively. It looks to be a chilly Friday night this week.
The Hartselle Tigers have possibly the best warmup possible. They will travel to take on 7A Bob Jones. The Patriots are similar to Hartselle's first-round playoff opponent, Center Point.
Hartselle has history with Center Point. The two teams squared off in the second round of last year's playoffs with Hartselle coming out on top 36-26 after trailing 14-0. Head coach Bryan Moore said then that the Tigers game vs. Bob Jones two weeks prior, which Hartselle won 38-31, had helped them in the game vs. Center Point.
West Morgan's warmup might be a little too good.
The Class 4A, No. 5 ranked Rebels are set to travel to Haleyville on Friday.
Normally that would be a great warmup. Haleyville is 7-2 and is coming off a 32-13 upset win over previously undefeated Class 4A, No. 8 Corner. However, with the current 4A bracket projections, there's a chance these two teams could meet again in the second round of the playoffs. Playing the same team twice in three weeks would be a rare occurrence and certainly not ideal.
Athens will host Russellville, a top 10 team in Class 5A, on Friday in a classic last game of the season rivalry game.
Athens came from behind in 2022 to defeat Russellville 32-31, but missed out on the playoffs. This year, Athens will travel to Oxford to start the postseason, so the Golden Eagles could use all the positive momentum they can get.
A team that doesn't have a game this week is Austin. The Black Bears have a bye after wrapping up the regular season last Friday with a 52-25 win over Huntsville. With that win, Austin finished 8-2 and secured the second seed in Class 7A, Region 4.
The Black Bears have won six in a row by a combined 272-81. That includes a combined 77-29 performance over James Clemens and Bob Jones, the former being the Region 4 winner.
Next week Austin will attempt to win its first playoff game since moving to 7A in 2018. The Black Bears are 0-4 so far, with three losses coming at home. As if they needed extra motivation, they'll be facing Vestavia Hills, the team that ousted the Black Bears from last year's postseason.
Here is who the nine teams will be playing this week along with their first-round playoff opponent:
—Austin: Off this week. Will host Vestavia Hills in the first round of the playoffs.
—Hartselle: at Bob Jones on Friday. Will host Center Point in the first round of the playoffs.
—Athens: vs. Russellville on Friday. Will travel to Oxford in the first round of the playoffs.
—Lawrence County: vs. Wilson on Friday. Will travel to Pleasant Grove in the first round of the playoffs.
—West Morgan: at Haleyville on Friday. Will host Etowah in the first round of the playoffs.
—Priceville: Off this week. Projected to travel to Corner in the first round of the playoffs.
—Tanner: Off this week. Will host in the first round of the playoffs.
—Hatton: vs. Geraldine on Thursday, Will travel to Sulligent in the first round of the playoffs.
—Decatur Heritage: Off this week. Will host Winterboro in the first round of the playoffs.
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