As jerseys and helmets hang quietly, carefully stored in equipment closets throughout the area, hoping for use this spring, it’s time for us to put a bow on the 2020 high school football season with our final FNN POWER FIVE for this season.
For us, the POWER FIVE has always been about “Championship Potential” first and foremost. To come to a final ranking for the season, we took each team’s “potential” as it was viewed by us at the start of the season and compared it to each team’s end of season “wins-losses”, ASWA ranking throughout the season, performance in big games, and finally post-season playoff performance.
Did we get it right? Likely not to every fan’s liking. Remember, only teams that are from our defined coverage area of Calhoun, Cherokee, Clay, Cleburne, Etowah, Randolph, St Clair (including Leeds area), and Talladega counties were considered.
We’ll give you the season-ending FNN POWER FIVE and our reasoning for ranking them where we did along with positions 6-10 with a brief synopsis for their ranking.
So here it comes – the 2020 season final FNN POWER FIVE!
1 – HANDLEY TIGERS
The Strain Train rolled into Bryant-Denny and delivered another Championship in Class 4A, defeating Gordo 35-20. It was the Tigers’ third state title since 2011. Handley finished the season an impressive 12-1. Their only loss, a slim 15-14 defeat by 5A Central-Clay County at Wright Field in Week 10. The Tigers posted double-digit wins throughout the playoffs, winning two games at home and two on the road before their Friday victory at Bryant-Denny. Their semi-final 34-13 road win over then-ranked #1 and previously unbeaten American Christian was especially impressive as the Tigers defense shut down the high powered Patriot offense. In the championship game and the final two games of the playoff stretch, Tae Meadows proved himself to be unstoppable…rushing for 200+ yards in each game. He scored four of Handley’s five touchdowns in the championship game, earning him the MVP award. After missing half of the 2018 season and all of 2019 with a knee injury, Meadows finished his junior season with 2,004 yards and 30 touchdowns. He amassed 1,086 yards and 17 touchdowns in the playoffs. For Sixth-year Handley coach Larry Strain, this is his second state football title, the other coming with Handley back in 2016. He coached two runner-up teams at Woodland. The Handley Tigers – even though a late entry into the FNN POWER FIVE, with another Blue Map in the school’s trophy case, a very deserving finish in our poll at #1 as the 4A State Champions.
2 – PIEDMONT BULLDOGS
When 2020 started, most everyone in north Alabama knew that if Covid-19 didn’t end the season early, the likelihood of a Piedmont showdown with Fyffe was extremely likely…and the winner would be a big favorite in the 3A championship game in Tuscaloosa. The Bulldogs spent the first half of the season ranked #1 in Class 3A, then a 20-15 loss at home mid-season to region foe Ohatchee dropped Piedmont down a spot or two and Fyffe slid into the #1 spot. Piedmont played a grueling schedule. After two weeks of forfeits from Weaver and Jacksonville, the Bulldogs nabbed a make-up game with 7A Grissom at home, which they won. After the Ohatchee loss the following Friday, the Bulldogs went on a tear, handling their business with relative ease heading into their region title game at Wellborn. A last-second touchdown run by Elijah Johnson gave the Bulldogs the 3A-Region 5 crown and the right to host in the first round on the bottom side of the 3A north playoff bracket (a clear advantage). The following Friday, the Bulldogs ended the regular season by knocking off previously unbeaten 5A Alexandria 27-23 at Death Valley to finish 9-1 headed into the post-season. Piedmont breezed through the first three rounds with double-digit wins over Colbert Heights, Plainview, and Saks, setting up the showdown on the mountain with Fyffe. Missed opportunities and rain doomed the Bulldogs against the eventual 3A state champion. Piedmont came up empty on three potential scoring trips deep into Fyffe territory. The 14-6 final ended Piedmont’s chances at going back-to-back in 3A and not being in the title game for the first time since 2017. The Bulldogs were loaded with contributing players, including seniors Sean Smith, Elijah Johnson, Jaden Calhoun, and Jakari Foster. There will be plenty of firepower returning in 2021 starting with QB Jack Hayes and WR Austin Estes. Look for Piedmont to be pre-season Top 5 and talk of a Piedmont-Fyffe rematch to dominate the spring and off-season chatter.
3 – ETOWAH BLUE DEVILS
First-year head coach Ryan Locke’s Blue Devils kind of quietly navigated “under the radar” through the regular season. Most wrote them off after their starting QB transferred and the opening week 34-0 hammering they took from cross-town 7A rival Gadsden City. Following the loss, Etowah reeled off three region wins over Oneonta, Fultondale and Ashville before suffering their 2nd loss of the season by two touchdowns at 6A Fort Payne. Two more region wins over Good Hope and Hanceville, a bye week, then a region forfeit from Dora had Etowah as champs of 4A-Region 6. A Week 10 24-17 loss to county rival 6A Southside-Gadsden dropped the Devils to 6-3 going into postseason play. Honestly, with many outside the program not expecting very much in the playoffs, this team came to life! Etowah ripped through the first three rounds, finding themselves hosting the 4A north semi-finals for the first time since 1999. The Blue Devils would face another Alabama high school football “blue blood” in the Gordo Green Wave. Etowah fell one touchdown short of returning to the Super 7. Graduation will hit the Blue Devils hard in the skill positions with the loss of Duke signee RB Trent Davis and defensive stand-out and special teams return man NyNy Davis. Locke should have an interesting spring.
4 – OXFORD YELLOW JACKETS
One has to question what effect a very weak region schedule had in preparing a team loaded with plenty of talent capable of repeating as 6A state champions in them getting back to the title game. Coach Keith Etheredge did all he could in scheduling challenging non-region games at 7A Thompson, at 5A power Pleasant Grove and a regular season-ending home game with 7A Central-Phoenix City. But the bottom line is-Oxford spent most of the season rarely challenged on Friday nights. The Oxford offense scored at will, averaging nearly 42 PPG. The Jackets defense was suspect coming into the season, but the staff brought them around as the year progressed. Oxford breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs with home wins over Minor and Briarwood, setting up a rematch with eventual state champion Pinson Valley. To put it mildly, it was a disastrous trip with the top-ranked Jackets falling 34-2 and exiting the 6A playoffs in the 3rd Round. Oxford will graduate several standout players, starting with Mr. Football candidate, QB Trey Higgins. WR Roc Taylor will be taking his unbelievable pass-catching skills to Knoxville in the SEC. Other exiting seniors include WR Warren Britt, DB Delvon Fegans, and RB Rod Elston. Etheredge has plenty in the cookie jar for next season, starting with one of the state’s most electrifying players in junior Trequon Fegans. Sam Robertson likely replaces Higgins at QB. WR/TE Cam Etheredge also returns. Look for Oxford to start out 2021 in the pre-season Top 10 in 6A.
5 – OHATCHEE INDIANS
After the loss of all-state RB Domonique Thomas and the move back up to 3A for the 2020-2021 seasons, many were not sure just how competitive Ohatchee would be in the ultra-tough Region 5. It didn’t take long for us to get the answer. In Week 1, the Indians traveled to Anniston to face the 4A north runners-up from 2019, the Bulldogs at Lott-Mosby Stadium. Ohatchee hammered them 52-13, serving notice that they would indeed be in the mix in 3A just like they were in 2A the previous two seasons. The 20-14 OT region loss at home to Wellborn in Week 2 would end up costly as the season unfolded. In Week 6, the Indians got state-wide headlines by going into then #1 ranked Piedmont and knocking off the defending 3A state champs 20-15. The win catapulted the Tribe into the 3A Top 5 rankings and Ohatchee set out to finish the regular season, hoping for some help to raise their Region 5 standing. That help never came and because of the state’s tiebreaker rules, Ohatchee finished 3rd in Region 5, sending the Indians on the road for Round 1. Two wins later, one over Lauderdale County on the road and the other over Winfield at home, the Indians got their shot at #1 Fyffe on “The Creekbank” in a game where they competed hard but came up short, 26-7. Ohatchee finished 11-2, giving the Tribe their 4th 10+ win season in the last five years. Of those seasons, we think 2020 may have been 7th-year head coach Scott Martin’s best coaching job. He’ll lose some key players to graduation, starting with speedster RB/DB Noah Fuller. Other contributing seniors include RB/DB Trey Pesnell, LB Konnor Baswell, TE/DB Brock England, TE/LB Luke Zurchin, and TE/DL Aiden Simpson. Returning to anchor the Ohatchee offense will be QB/LB Eli Ennis. Martin will need to restock his backfield this spring, but expect Ohatchee to once again be a factor in 3A-Region 5 and back in the playoffs in 2021.
6 - ALEXANDRIA VALLEY CUBS
Upon review, one could easily think that this year’s edition of the Valley Cubs potentially finished one year ahead of schedule. Going unbeaten throughout the regular season until the Week 10 loss to Piedmont wasn’t expected. The Cubs won the 5A-Region 6 title with a 24-9 Week 9 road win at Leeds. The Valley Cubs won at home 57-20 over West Point in Round 1, then defeated Parker 32-21 on the road the following Friday, setting up their Round 3 game hosting Pleasant Grove. The 2020 5A runners-up ended the Valley Cubs season 35-7. Alexandria has one of the state’s most electric and gifted players in freshman Ronnie Royal, certain to be a first-team all-state selection. Add in junior Javais McGhee and sophomore Antonio Ross to complete the Cubs’ “Three-Headed Monster” trio, all returning for 2021 and it’s easy to see why Alexandria will be a top contender in 5A next season. Coach Todd Ginn will have to replace senior QB Wesley Wright this spring.
7 – SPRING GARDEN PANTHERS
Jason Howard had a ton of returning upperclassmen to lead his Panthers into their new 2A classification this season, and they didn’t disappoint. The Garden finished 12-2, falling to eventual state champion Mars Hill Bible 32-14 in the 2A north semi-final. Howard loses the nucleus of this team in seniors FB Luke Welsh, TB Weston Kirk, and QB Riley Kirk. This trio has combined for an amazing 41 wins over their four years playing at Spring Garden. They definitely have left their mark on the history of the Panthers program.
8 – CENTRAL-CLAY COUNTY
The two-time defending 5A state champs from Lineville finished the regular season at 9-1 with another region title. The Volunteers would exit the 2020 playoffs with a Round 3 27-13 loss down in Mobile to eventual 5A state champion St Paul’s. Danny Horn will just reload this spring. He’ll be looking for a replacement for senior QB Boyd Ogles. Look for Central-Clay County to be a pre-season Top 10 pick and to make another run at a Super 7 appearance in 2021.
9 – WALTER WELLBORN PANTHERS
The Jett Smith playing era came to an end in Round 2 of the playoffs with a 42-13 loss to eventual 3A champion Fyffe. Smith, one of the area's most dominating defensive players, will graduate this May with many of the school's records etched beside his name. The Panthers have tied for the region title the last two seasons. They finished the 2020 regular season at 8-1, 9-2 overall. Coach Jeff Smith will have a challenging spring, looking to fill many key spots vacated by seniors including QB/LB Jett Smith, RB/LB Logan Brooks, TE/LB Keyonte Curry, WR/DB Christian Figueroa, OL/DL Kaden Goodwin, RB/DB Calvin Spinks, and RB/DB Ti'quan Thomas. 2021 will likely be a rebuilding year for the Panthers.
10 – B B COMER TIGERS
This is a program that was left for dead a few seasons ago. In the five years prior to Adam Fossett’s arrival in 2018, the Tigers only won 12 games. In 2019, Comer came out of nowhere to finish 4th in the ultra-tough 3A-Region 6 and made the playoffs. Reclassified down to 2A for 2020-2021, the Tigers went 9-2 this year with one of the quickest offenses we witnessed all season. They made it into the 2nd Round where they lost 56-34 to the eventual 2A state runners-up from Abbeville. Fossett loses a key player in senior RB/QB/DB Rapheale Johnson but as a whole, B B Comer is a relatively young team and should be a contender once again in 2A-Region 4 next season.
That’s it for the 2020 FNN POWER FIVE. Remember, we create the poll for fun and conversation…so please don’t take it too seriously. You’re welcome to disagree with us (and we know many of you will :-)) in the comments, but please keep your remarks civil. Give legitimate reasons why you see things differently.
Let’s leave 2020 with the thought that back in July; it’s a season we never imagined would happen. We need to recognize the efforts of the administrators, the coaches, the officials, and the players for doing the things that resulted in 16 weeks of fantastic high school football in Alabama. At FNN, we’re proud to have played our small part in the year by bringing you our 10th season of the GAME OF THE WEEK. Thanks for watching and following what we do.
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