Super Six debutants to meet in 5A title game
Mike Self, FCT Sports Editor
The Class 5A state championship game has featured plenty of excitement in recent years, but it has also been severely lacking in variety.
Prior to this season, only five different schools had represented Class 5A in the Super Six over the past six years. Perennial power Homewood led the way with five appearances during that period, followed by Russellville with three and Benjamin Russell with two. Buckhorn and Briarwood Christian were the only other 5A schools to make the trip to Birmingham in the past six seasons.
Such has been the dominance of perennial powers that this week's battle between Athens and Eufaula (set for Friday at 7 p.m.) will mark the first time this century that neither Homewood nor Russellville will be taking part in the Class 5A state title game. (The Patriots moved up to Class 6A this season and were soundly defeated by Hoover in the quarterfinals; meanwhile, the Golden Tigers saw their run of six straight semifinal appearances end with a 19-14 loss to J.O. Johnson in round three.)
With the door to Birmingham suddenly left wide open, Athens (11-3) and Eufaula (14-0) barged through.
Both teams are participating in their first Super Six. The Golden Eagles last won the state championship in 1976, while Eufalua's most recent title came two years later.
The two teams have followed vastly different paths to Legion Field. The top-ranked Tigers cruised to the Region 2 championship and have won all but three of their games by at least 22 points.
Athens, on the other hand, posted a pedestrian 7-3 record during the regular season and finished third in Region 8. The Golden Eagles knocked off Briarwood Christian in the first round of the playoffs and, after a rout of Fort Payne, punched their ticket to Birmingham with close wins over Hartselle and Johnson.
Eufaula may have the No. 1 ranking and a gaudy record, but Russellville coach Perry Swindall said Athens definitely belongs at the Super Six.
"Athens has a lot of good football players, and when they play to their potential they're as good as anybody around," said Swindall, whose Golden Tigers rallied from a second-half deficit to beat Athens 32-19 during the regular season. "Our kids had to really make some big plays to come up with enough to beat them back in Week 6.
"I don't know much about Eufala, but I know they've played really well this year. They've got a lot of speed, and from everything I've heard they're pretty good. Athens will have to eliminate some mistakes, but I think it should be a great ball game."
Action at the Super Six will kick off Thursday at 3 p.m. with the Class 2A championship game between Leroy (12-2) and Woodland (12-2). Leroy won the state title in 2004, while Woodland is seeking its first crown.
Action continues on Thursday night at 7 p.m. with Thomasville (13-1) and Guntersville (13-1) locking horns in the Class 4A finals. Both are making their first Super Six appearance.
The Super Six will resume on Friday at 3 p.m. with a monumental Class 3A showdown between powerhouses Clay County (14-0) and Pike County (13-1). Both teams won state titles last season (Clay County won the 2A crown while Pike County is the defending champ in 3A), and both are accustomed to playing in the Super Six.
Clay County has won six state titles since 1994, while Pike County has won two of the past three Class 3A championships.
Athens and Eufaula will meet Friday night at 7 p.m., and then the Super Six wraps up on Saturday.
Sweet Water (12-1), the 2004 state champion, will face Cedar Bluff, making its first trip to the Super Six, in the Class 1A finals at 11 a.m. The weekend will then conclude with a titanic clash between Hoover (13-1) and Prattville (14-0) in the Class 6A championship game.
The Bucs will be seeking their fifth straight title, while Prattville is looking for its first championship since 1984.