Six prep storylines: Oxford, Wellborn prep for big region tests; Hayes eyes state records

Sep. 14—Oxford and Wellborn face one of their biggest region games.

Led by Antonio Ross, Improving Alexandria looks forward to homecoming.

Battle-tested Jacksonville looks to turn what it's learned on the rest of its schedule.

With Jack Hayes approaching state records, Piedmont looks to avenge consecutive losses to Ohatchee.

Handley and Clay Central eye their marquee non-region game as Handley's Jamarius Haynes amasses eye-popping numbers.

1. Pointing to Pinson

Oxford has won three games in a row and looked good doing it. Now comes one of the biggest tests in the Yellow Jackets' new-old region alignment ... Pinson Valley.

Oxford (3-1, 2-0) and Pinson Valley (1-2, 0-1) play on Lamar Field on Friday, and it could very well be the game that determines whether one of those teams gets to open the playoffs on its home field.

Top-ranked Clay-Chalkville plays host to Oxford on Oct. 14. Pinson Valley lost to Clay-Chalkville last week. As with all AHSAA regions, the top two finishers in Class 6A, Region 6 will open the playoffs at home.

With stakes also comes a lot of recent history. Oxford holds a 7-4 edge in the all-time series, all of it since 2004. Friday's game will mark their sixth meeting dating back through the 2018 season, including three playoff games.

Oxford eliminated Pinson Valley in the 2019 semifinals en route to the Yellow Jackets' first state title in 26 years. Pinson Valley eliminated Oxford in 2020 and 2021.

2. Alexandria homecoming

Alexandria plays host to Springville in a 5A, Region 6 game as well as homecoming, and it's another chance to show improvement.

The Valley Cubs opened with losses to Jacksonville and Moody, but those were two losses to good teams and an Alexandria team that had to replace most starters on both sides of the ball.

The Valley Cubs showed encouraging signs in a 42-27 loss to Moody then got their first victory of the season last week, at Lincoln.

As expected, Ross has been the key. He carried the ball 32 times each against Moody and Lincoln and rushed for a combined 310 yards in those games.

He has 435 yards this season.

3. Wellborn's test

As things shake out in Class 3A, Region 4, it looks like Wellborn will face one of its two biggest region tests Friday, when Dadeville comes to The Hill.

Wellborn is 2-1, 1-0 in region play. Dadeville is 3-0, 2-0.

Randolph County (3-0, 1-0) is the only other region team that hasn't lost a region game, and Wellborn will play the Tigers at home, Oct. 7.

It can't set up any better for Wellborn, with the Panthers getting both Dadeville and Randolph County at home. They also play Saks (2-2, 1-1) at home.

Wellborn is a different team on The Hill. Just ask Piedmont.

4. Rebounding Jacksonville

The Golden Eagles have come through the toughest part of their schedule, having beaten Boaz and Alexandria in non-region play and lost to Handley and Anniston in showdowns with 4A, Region 4 contenders.

Jacksonville is likely headed for a third-place finish in region play, but the top three teams in Region 4 are top 10 teams in 4A. The Golden Eagles lost 54-41 to Handley and 30-23 to Anniston.

Jacksonville got better playing that competition, despite two losses. The Golden Eagles can fine tune for weeks before the playoffs.

Jacksonville faces winless Talladega in Friday's region game at home. From there, it's winless Ohatchee at home, Cleburne County (1-3) on the road, Munford (2-1) at home, White Plains (1-2) on the road and Oxford (3-1) in a non-region road game.

5. Surging Piedmont

Piedmont has won two games in a row against 2021 Class 3A playoff teams and won them impressively.

Hayes, Piedmont's senior quarterback, is well on his way to breaking state records. He's 46-for-68 for 621 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception this season. He also has 271 rushing yards and four touchdowns to make it 892 total yards and 11 total touchdowns.

Hayes needs seven touchdown passes to break the AHSAA career record. With two more combined passing/rushing touchdowns, he'll set the mark for touchdown responsibility.

With seven regular-season games plus playoffs to go, he's also within striking distance of career records for passing yardage (8,378/10,774) and total yards (11,137/13,218).

Come Friday, the Bulldogs take on winless Ohatchee, looking to avenge losses to the Indians in 2020 and 2021.

6. Showdown to the south

Handley takes a break from 4A, Region 4 play and will play host to neighboring 5A, Region 4 power Clay Central in one of the area's most attractive non-region games.

Clay Central (2-1) came into this season having to replace 15 starters but has won two games in a row since opening with a loss to Benjamin Russell. The Vols beat previously unbeaten Elmore County 48-21 last week.

Since opening with a 22-20 victory over 5A Valley, Handley has averaged 50 points against St. James, Jacksonville and White Plains. Haynes, who rushed for 476 yards against Jacksonville, has 838 rushing yards, 962 total yards and 12 touchdowns through four games.

He averages 11.6 yards a carry.

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.