Thursday, May 17, 2018

Woe unto teams that have to play Hillcrest-Evergreen next season

Allen James (3) picks up yards Friday night in Montgomery.

Those of you who didn’t travel to Montgomery on Friday evening to watch Hillcrest play Wilcox Central in their spring football game at the New ASU Stadium missed a rare treat.

Going into the game, I was especially curious to see how Hillcrest, the defending 3A state champions, would look in a “real” game against a “live” opponent for the first time since their big win in the state championship game in December. From year to year, every team is different, mainly due to graduating seniors and younger players joining the team, and it’s hard to say how those things will affect a team.

Hillcrest won, 49-0, on Friday night, which indicates to me that Hillcrest is still a force to be reckoned with. In fact, the incoming team at Hillcrest may be even better than the team that won a state title last year.

Some in the reading audience may think that Wilcox Central just wasn’t that good, but I would disagree. Wilcox Central, a Class 5A school, has what I would call an above average team, with good size and a lot of athleticism. They were just no match for Hillcrest.

I would say that Hillcrest is actually better than Friday night’s final score reflects. Typically, in spring games coaches keep things very conservative and don’t dip too deep into their playbooks. Woe unto the team that faces Hillcrest when they open things all the way up next fall.

Speaking of next fall, it won’t be long until the sports writers begin putting together their preseason poll for the coming season. Generally speaking, the preseason poll is based largely on how teams performed during the previous season, and the state champ usually gets voted No. 1 in the preseason poll, unless they’ve had a big coaching change or are hit hard by graduation.

With Hillcrest moving up from 3A to 4A and ending up in the same region with defending 4A champion UMS-Wright, this puts voters in a somewhat unusual situation. I predict that most voters will vote UMS-Wright as the No. 1 team in the preseason poll, but it won’t be unanimous as long as I have a vote. No doubt UMS-Wright will have a good team next year, but based on what I saw Friday night, I’ll be voting Hillcrest No. 1 in 4A when I turn in my ballot.

As the saying goes, it’ll all shake out in the wash. Hillcrest and UMS-Wright will get the chance to decide it all on the field on Oct. 5 when they play each other in a big region showdown in Mobile. Regardless of who wins that night, don’t be surprised if these two teams meet again in the playoffs.

Getting back to Friday night’s spring game in Montgomery, I was very impressed by the New ASU Stadium, which opened in 2012. I’d never been there before Friday night, and those who went will tell you all about how nice it was. A sizeable crowd of Evergreen fans went to the game, even though it didn’t look that way due to the size of the stadium, which seats 26,500 – more than the populations of Conecuh and Wilcox Counties combined, with nearly 2,000 seats left over.

In the end, it was an enjoyable way to cap off spring practice, and I know that I’m not the only one looking forward to next season. Hillcrest’s football program has come a long way in a short amount of time, and my feeling is that there’s a lot more to come.

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