As with everything else this 2020 football season, things are different from previous years for Mostradamus this fall.
The turbaned prognosticator and his crystal ball will try to overcome new surroundings and sudden schedule changes, though, to maintain the standards set over the past five campaigns – during which his picks have panned out at an accuracy rate of 75 percent or so (414-137, .751, since the beginning of the 2017 season).
A couple of hotly contested rivalries and a late addition highlight this week’s slate. Let’s see what’s in store for the area season openers.
Richland (6-5 in 2019) at Rogers (Ala.) (3-8): The Raiders get things started this week with a Thursday night trip south, after spoiling the start of the 2019 season for Rogers a year ago by dealing the visiting Pirates a 7-0 defeat. The loss sent Rogers into an early tailspin, as the first of six straight before a late surge into the Class 4A state playoffs. With just two returning starters on either side of the ball and four seniors, experience stands to be an issue for the hosts. Meanwhile, Richland comes off its first postseason appearance in a dozen years and boasts 12 seniors along with junior QB Sam Edwards, eager to make a mark after missing last season with a knee injury. Look for the Raiders to get a confidence boost with a road win. Richland 19, Rogers 13.
Columbia Acad. (6-6) at Clay Co. (8-4): This time a week ago, CA was looking down the barrel at a trip to defending Region 4-4A titlist Marshall County, after falling at home to the Tigers 41-7 last year. But COVID-related issues forced a cancellation of the matchup, and instead the Bulldogs will face another pack of Bulldogs that finished second in Region 4-1A in 2019. Clay County figures to be a defensive-oriented bunch, led by two-time all-state lineman Dalton Goad (42 tackles, 10 sacks in ’19) and trenchmate Wade Coons (52 tackles, two sacks). The hosts will likely start a sophomore, Keaton Arms, at QB. A physical kid, Arms played receiver last fall and will see time at linebacker as well. CA, meanwhile, can be explosive offensively, with senior slotback Franklin Walker a threat from anywhere on the field. The visitors will need to minimize turnovers, but should pick up the road victory. Columbia Acad. 23, Clay Co. 16.
Columbia Central (6-5) at Spring Hill (1-9): In fishing parlance, this was the win that the Raiders let get away last year. Leading by two touchdowns at halftime, visiting Spring Hill was unable to finish off the upset and fell 13-12. This time, the matchup could be a matter of which defense holds up better against the run, as Landen Secrest (396 rushing yards, two TDs in 2019) and Christian Biggers (1,120 yards, 10 TDs) will be busy for the Raiders and Lions, respectively. Following a preseason that saw no scrimmages or jamborees, this will be the first time under the lights for both squads; conditioning – and depth — will likely be a factor. Expect that to tip the scales in favor of the visitors in a Backyard Bowl minus the bells and whistles of the prior three matchups. Columbia Central 27, Spring Hill 17.
Mt. Pleasant (8-3) at Summertown (6-5): The Tigers have been itching to get back on the field since their four-touchdown loss at McEwen in the opening round of last year’s Class 1A state playoffs. And while some of the cast members have changed since that disappointing defeat, one of the constants is senior FB/LB Ethan Beasley, who makes Mt. Pleasant go on both sides of the ball. He and two-way junior lineman Dontavious Ellison will help some less experienced players settle into their roles. Summertown, meanwhile, boasts a boatload of experience at the skill positions – including a trio of juniors in QB Colton Shaffer, RB Aniken Johnson and the versatile Javen Edmiston. The host Tigers won 42-14 to open the 2019 campaign; this one will be closer. Summertown 28, Mt. Pleasant 24.
Summit (12-3) at Independence (7-5): Inexperience at quarterback hasn’t been a concern for Independence during Scott Blade’s coaching tenure, but the eight-year veteran will turn the offensive reins over to Jaxson Campbell. An all-state selection last year at defensive back, Campbell earned all-Region 6-6A honors at receiver with 73 catches for 940 yards and six TDs. His primary targets will likely be Tyler Kondra, a tight end transfer from Nevada, and Brigham Morrical. While the Eagles may not be as dynamic as in previous years, Summit returns the nucleus of its attack that advanced to the Class 5A state finals – including juniors Destin and Keaten Wade, who teamed for 3,220 offensive yards and 45 touchdowns. With two victories in the past three years of the series, including a 34-15 decision to open last season, the Spartans may be set to break through on the other side of the Border Battle. Summit 26, Independence 21.
Zion Chr. (4-5) at Grace Chr. (0-10): Struggling with roster numbers the past two seasons, the host Lions’ only victory since 2017 came in a 46-44 shootout against visiting Mt. Pleasant. Grace does return QB Ashton Kelley and expects to get a lift from versatile Blake Barton, a Belmont baseball commit returning for his senior year. The hosts will also honor the memory of baseball/basketball standout Grant Solomon, killed in a vehicular mishap last month, by painting his jersey numerals in both end zones. Zion, which has also had numbers issues over the past couple of campaigns, features senior WR/DB Sam Sullivan, who in three games last fall had nine receptions for 212 yards and two scores. Luke Perko steps in under center, behind an experienced offensive line led by seniors Jaden Keyser, Zach Knowles and Connor Matheny. Following a 47-34 win in the 2019 opener, expect the visiting Eagles to come through again. Zion Chr. 20, Grace Chr. 18.
Last season: 128-41 (.757)