For four high school football teams in the TimesDaily’s coverage area, life is pretty good.
Russellville, Brooks, Lauderdale County and Mars Hill are gearing up for second-round games as they pursue state championships.
But for the rest of the Shoals, football season is over, and it continues a trend of first-round disappointment for an increasingly large chunk of the area.
The TimesDaily’s coverage area includes 31 football teams. That’s every team in Lauderdale, Colbert and Franklin counties along with Hackleburg, Haleyville, Hamilton, Hatton, Phillips and R.A. Hubbard in Alabama and Collinwood, Lawrence County, Loretto and Wayne County in Tennessee.
The problem isn’t that too few qualify for the playoffs. There were 18 teams in the coverage area — 17 in Alabama plus Loretto — in action last Friday as the playoffs started in both states. There were 20 playoff qualifiers from the Shoals last year.
For the second consecutive year, however, only four advanced. This time, those four were all No. 1 seeds playing at home against No. 4 seeds.
To be fair, it’s not as though anyone blew what should have been an easy win. It was obvious reigning 6A state champ Pinson Valley, despite being a No. 3 seed, would be a tough opponent for No. 2 seed Muscle Shoals.
The Trojans kept up in a back-and-forth game until Pinson Valley scored in the final minute.
Fellow No. 2 seeds Phil Campbell and Lexington seemed set for challenges going in against J.B. Pennington and Southeastern-Blount, respectively, given their players’ little or no prior playoff experience. No. 2 seed R.A. Hubbard, meanwhile, stumbled against Meek after a promising start.
None of the local teams seeded No. 3 or No. 4 earned a road win. Central, which rallied for a late lead before falling to Good Hope by three points, came the closest.
It’s the fifth straight year more local teams have lost in the first round than have won, and it’s the second straight year no team in Colbert County won a playoff game. Before last year, that had not happened since 1995.
But there are still positives.
Rogers rallied in October to clinch a playoff bid. Colbert Heights shook off some inconsistency for a record fifth straight appearance. Hatton survived its lack of experience to qualify for a second year in a row, and Phillips made it for the first time since 2018.
So Russellville, Brooks, Lauderdale County and Mars Hill will carry the flag for the Shoals the rest of the way.
As for everyone else?
Now is the time to assess the ups and downs of the season, recognize the accomplishments and set goals for next fall.