By Jonathan Deal
— Last week: 2-0; Overall: 58-14
Friday, November 22
Both games at 7 p.m.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Athens (9-3) at Muscle Shoals (11-1),
J.F. Moore Stadium, Muscle Shoals
Preview: The only two teams from 5A Region 8 remaining in the postseason square off Friday in Muscle Shoals for a spot in the state semifinals. Athens is the lone remaining No. 4 seed in the 5A playoff bracket and one of two left among all classifications.
The Golden Eagles have thrived on the underdog role during the first two rounds, defeating two Birmingham-area schools with a combined record of 20-2. Those were unfamiliar opponents, which Athens dominated defensively.
Tomorrow night’s opponent is not so unfamiliar. Muscle Shoals and Athens have played every year since 1998. It’s been a streaky series, with few close games recently.
Muscle Shoals has won the last four, outscoring Athens 118 -10. AHS won six straight before that, dominating the Trojans in three consecutive shutouts from 2007-09.
Muscle Shoals had the last shutout in the series, back on Sept. 20 in a 35-0 demolition in Athens Stadium. Athens committed six turnovers in that game, including two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
As bad as the loss looked, the Golden Eagles’ defense surrendered just two touchdowns. If Athens is going to have a chance at upsetting No. 5 ranked Muscle Shoals, it will have to win the turnover battle.
Special teams also promise to be major factor. In their last meeting, these teams combined for 13 punts.
This game will feature two of the top defenses in North Alabama. Athens has four shutouts and gives up 12 points per game while Muscle Shoals has six shutouts and gives up five points per game.
The only time these teams have met in the playoffs was a first-round game in 1990, which Muscle Shoals won 12-10.
There is a good chance the Friday game winner will play the Spanish Fort/Jackson winner for the 5A state championship.
Last meeting: Muscle Shoals won 35-0 on Sept. 20.
Series history: Athens leads 17-9.
News Courier Prediction: Muscle Shoals 14, Athens 10
Tanner (10-1) at Montgomery Academy (11-1)
McLemore Field, Montgomery
Preview: After scoring three fourth-quarter touchdowns to stay alive in the 2A playoffs, defending 2A champion Tanner travels south for a quarterfinal game against Montgomery Academy. Tanner played two its most challenging games of the season in back-to-back weeks during the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The other three teams from Tanner’s region — Lexington, Red Bay and Sheffield — were eliminated in the first round, all by at least three touchdowns. The biggest blowout was Ranburne’s 49-12 defeat of Sheffield, who then lost to Montgomery Academy 54-37 last week.
Although the Eagles are averaging just over five touchdowns per game for the season, they have put up 45 points on average through the first two rounds of the playoffs. On the flip side, Montgomery Academy gives up about three touchdowns per game for the year. That bodes well for Tanner, which is scoring a shade under six TDs per game in 2013.
Tanner has given up more than two touchdowns twice this season. Last week was the first time the Rattlers were held under 30 points since a season opening loss to Madison Academy.
Montgomery Academy has not won a third-round playoff game since 2002. The Eagles finished second in 2A Region 5, behind No. 2 ranked Lanett (11-0).
Series history: These teams have never met.
News Courier Prediction: Tanner 34, Montgomery Academy 28