The championship chase is on for high school football programs across Alabama.
Five teams in The Times’ coverage area are squarely in that mix and will take their first steps toward a potential state title beginning with the opening round of the playoffs this week.
Addison and Fairview will both host after finishing second in their respective regions while Cullman, Vinemont and West Point hit the road to face their postseason opponents.
Let’s take a look at what awaits each local squad.
▶ Team: Addison (8-2, 6-1 in Class 1A, Region 8)
▶ Opponent: Pickens County (7-3, 5-3 in Class 1A, Region 5)
▶ When: Friday at Addison
▶ All-Time Series: Pickens County leads 5-0
▶ Players to Watch: Jed Wilkins, Braden Luker, Caleb Vintson
▶ The Skinny: The Bulldogs are back in the playoffs for the 11th time in 12 seasons under coach David Smothers.
They’ll face a familiar opponent in the Tornadoes, who defeated Addison in the Class 1A semifinals back in 2016.
Pickens County, which has reached at least the semifinal round since that aforementioned win over the Bulldogs, has put together another solid season under coach Michael Williams.
The Tornadoes have surrendered only 7.0 points per clash in their seven wins — with their losses coming against South Lamar (7-3), 3A No. 3 Gordo (9-1) and 1A No. 5 Lynn (9-1).
Addison, meanwhile, enters Friday night’s contest riding a six-game winning streak, having outpaced opponents 211-49 during that impressive stretch.
▶ Coach Speak: “We’re just resetting and trying to dial it in — telling them this could be it. It’s really all about being focused because the team that’s most disciplined has the best chance of winning. We want them to lean on each other and make sure they know they can trust each other.” — David Smothers
“Pickens County is as athletic as all get out. They can take a broken play and turn it into points. We have to fly to the ball, never let up, never assume that they are tackled. We have to play relentless defense and control the ball on offense.” — David Smothers
▶ Team: Cullman (5-5, 2-3 in Class 6A, Region 7)
▶ Opponent: No. 2 Clay-Chalkville (9-0, 6-0 in Class 6A, Region 6)
▶ When: Friday at Clay-Chalkville
▶ All-Time Series: Clay-Chalkville leads 1-0
▶ Players to Watch: Jackson Sessions, Wyatt Buchanan, Pierce Bartle
▶ The Skinny: The Bearcats notched their fifth straight playoff berth this season and first under coach Danny Stiff.
Cullman will face off against 6A No. 2 Clay-Chalkville, a perennial championship contender that has surrendered just 78 points — 33 of those coming in a win over 7A No. 2 Thompson — so far this season.
Since coach Drew Gilmer took over the program in 2017, the Cougars have picked up 76 victories, including three region titles and a state championship in 2021.
The Black and Gold corralled five wins in Stiff’s inaugural season, with two losses — Mortimer Jordan and Athens — decided by a combined 10 points and three others — 3A No. 4 Mars Hill Bible, 6A No. 6 Hartselle and 6A No. 4 Muscle Shoals — coming against ranked opponents.
Clay-Chalkville eliminated Cullman in the first round of the 2015 playoffs following a 48-14 win.
▶ Coach Speak: “It’s been good (preparing for the playoffs). With our guys in this region, you have to play some challenging teams. In the playoffs, you’re going to be taking on some of the better teams.” — Danny Stiff
“Their strength on both sides of the ball stands out. Their offense is very explosive. The kid playing quarterback is a top-notch athlete who has developed at the position. You can tell he works hard. They’ve also got one of the best wide receivers I’ve seen as a high school coach. They’ve got big guys up front and go a great job there as well. The defense is just as dangerous. Length and speed, cover a lot of ground, make a lot of plays. It’s hard to get any kind of consistent drives going against them.” — Danny Stiff
“We don’t need to turn it over and we need to try to get turnovers. We also need to try to sustain drives and not go three-and-out, even if we end up punting. It takes a lot to do that. You need patience and you need to be OK with getting five yards and nickel-and-diming them.” — Danny Stiff
▶ Team: No. 9 Fairview (9-1, 5-1 in Class 5A, Region 8)
▶ Opponent: John Carroll (8-2, 5-2 in Class 5A, Region 5)
▶ All-Time Series: First Meeting
▶ When: Friday at Fairview
▶ Players to Watch: Carson Jones, Jake Harper, Eric Gonzalez
▶ The Skinny: The Aggies are certainly no strangers to the postseason, having now made the playoffs five straight times — and 11 overall — under longtime coach George Redding.
Awaiting Fairview in the first round is John Carroll, which returns the postseason for the first time since 2009 after reaching the eight-win mark for the first time since 1998.
Coach Will Mara’s team is averaging 35.1 points per game and its two losses have come against 5A No. 2 Ramsay and 5A No. 4 Pleasant Grove.
The Purple and Gold, meanwhile, registered its best defensive season (9.5 points per game) since the 1993 squad yielded just 8.1 points per game in the regular season.
Redding’s squad has also ridden a strong rushing attack on the offensive side of the ball.
▶ Coach Speak: “It’s an honor to host a playoff game. We take a lot of pride in that. It’s great for the school and community for us to have the opportunity.” — George Redding
“They are a tremendously talented team that causes you a lot of problems in different areas. They’ve got good receivers, lots of running backs. They have a dynamic quarterback as well. They bring a lot of athleticism playing in a tough region with lots of speed. They play talented teams each and every week, but we’re excited to line up against them and see what we can do.” — George Redding
“It’ll be important for us to manage the game well and get off the field defensively. They score lots of points, so it becomes really important for us to do that. We need to sustain some drives as well.” — George Redding
▶ Team: Vinemont (4-6, 3-3 in Class 3A, Region 7)
▶ Opponent: No. 9 Sylvania (8-2, 7-0 in Class 3A, Region 6)
▶ All-Time Series: Sylvania leads 1-0
▶ When: Friday at Sylvania
▶ Players to Watch: Kayden Henderson, Diego Rodriguez, Kyler Pugh
▶ The Skinny: The Eagles continue to shine under coach Stephen Robinson, reaching the postseason for the fourth straight year — the first time the program has accomplished that feat since 1987-90.
The 3A No. 9 Rams, meanwhile, followed last season’s semifinal appearance with their first region title since 2016.
Sylvania can score in bunches — coach Tyler Vann’s team averages 37.3 points per bout — and its two losses this season have come against 2A No. 5 Pisgah (40-34) and 2A No. 2 Fyffe (21-10).
Vinemont, though, enters with some momentum — three straight wins while averaging 38.0 points per game.
▶ Coach Speak: “Our guys are excited. I think we had our best practice today, intense and physical. The attitude is right where it needs to be. We know we have a tough game, but I think our guys are ready to take on that challenge of taking that next step.” — Stephen Robinson
“They are fundamentally sound and do a good job at the little things. They are physical and fire off the ball. Their quarterback can sling it, talented running back. It’s a senior-heavy team. We can’t have critical mistakes. We also need to get some turnovers on defense and our offensive line play has to be really good. If we can do that and go out and sustain some drives, we’ll have a chance.” — Stephen Robinson
▶ Team: West Point (5-5, 2-4 in Class 5A, Region 8)
▶ Opponent: No. 2 Ramsay (8-2, 7-0 in Class 5A, Region 5)
▶ All-Time Series: First Meeting
▶ When: Thursday at Legion Field
▶ Players to Watch: Garit Roberson, Parker Marks, Hunter Hensley
▶ The Skinny: The Warriors rallied down the stretch, collecting a postseason spot for the sixth time under longtime coach Don Farley, who announced earlier this season would be his last. He has been part of 270 West Point games as an assistant and/or head coach.
West Point will head to Legion Field to face defending state champion and 5A No. 2 Ramsay, which dominated its region foes en route to a second consecutive region crown.
Under third-year coach Ronnie Jackson, the Rams are averaging 37.3 points per outing and limiting opponents to just 11.1 points per outing. Their losses came to 7A No. 4 Auburn (13-7) and 6A No. 5 Parker (20-17).
The Warriors, meanwhile, secured their best offensive output since 2020 (22.6 points per game) and have shown the ability to make key plays at crucial moments all season.
▶ Coach Speak: “We’re matching up against a fast and sound Ramsay team. It’s a big mountain to climb, but we’ve been challenging our guys to go out there and compete. Any time you can extend the season and go play at Legion Field, it’s exciting. Guys are fired up and we can’t wait to get out there and soak up the environment.” — Don Farley
“Ramsay does a great job with its RPO game. That’s something that we’ve done a good job of, too, so our guys have seen us run it and the defense recognizes that. Defensively, they’ve got guys who fly to the football and do a good job of tackling. But for us it’s about controlling what we can control, not getting overwhelmed and just going out there and competing.” — Don Farley