The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

October 18, 2012

Realignment reason for ‘down year’

By Jonathan Deal

— As the high school football season winds down, the playoff picture across the state is starting to take shape. Locally, only Tanner has secured a spot in the postseason, and Ardmore is the only other team that would make it should the season end today.

If Ardmore and Tanner are the only local teams to make the playoffs, the first week of November will look much different than it did last year. On Nov. 4, 2011, five of Limestone County’s seven football teams played in first-round playoff games. Three of those teams — Elkmont, West Limestone and Tanner — won their first-round games.

Elkmont and West lost in the second round to the eventual runner-up in their respective classifications, and Tanner went on to the school’s first state championship appearance.

What a difference a year can make.

With three weeks remaining in the regular season, Tanner (7-0) and Ardmore (5-2) are the only teams with winning records. Limestone’s other five teams are a combined 9-26.

It’s easy to say that it’s a down year for Limestone County football, but there is more to it than that. It’s not like the players aren’t playing as hard or the coaches have forgotten how to coach.

It’s all about the schedule. A major shakeup in regional alignments for 2012 has caused some regions to be loaded and others to be a cakewalk. There is no better example than Class 5A Region 8 where both Athens and East Limestone could be shut out of postseason play.

In 2011, East Limestone won seven consecutive games to finish second and Athens claimed the final playoff spot.

A pair of top-ten teams were added to the region this year in Cullman and defending champions Hartselle. As of tonight’s games, those schools are competing for the 2nd/3rd playoff spots in the region.

Another example is in 3A Region 8 where Clements and Elkmont both suffered lopsided losses to newcomers Madison Academy and Westminster.

But the region alignments worked in some teams’ favor. Ardmore is enjoying success in 4A Region 7 and Tanner has already clinched another region title in 2A.

But all this could turn out to be premature. With a strong finish, it is entirely possible for five teams to make it back to the postseason.

Whether it’s two teams, three teams or five teams, it’s obvious regional alignments have played a major factor this fall.