UMS-WRIGHT (12-2) vs. ONEONTA (14-0)
WHEN: 11 a.m. today
HOW THEY GOT HERE: UMS-Wright def. St. James, 49-42; Dadeville, 38-24; Beauregard, 22-19; Dora, 35-21; Oneonta def. Anniston, 47-0; North Jackson, 48-21; J.O. Johnson, 33-0; Madison County, 40-25
STATE PLAYOFF CHAMPIONSHIPS: UMS-Wright -- 5 (1987, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2008); Oneonta -- 3 (1971 co-champion, 1972, 2004)
LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: UMS-Wright -- 2008 (defeated Cherokee County, 41-7); Oneonta -- 2011 (lost to Jackson, 42-28)
RECORD IN FINALS: UMS-Wright, 5-1; Oneonta, 2-4-1
LAST MEETING: UMS-Wright 28, Oneonta 7 (1987 finals)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: UMS Wright -- QB Gunner Roach (1,705 yards passing), WR T.J. Dixon (68 catches for 955 yards and 9 TDs), RB Troy Dixon (sophomore has 281 carries for 1,958 yards), DL Chris Quinnelly (his return to the lineup with a torn knee ligament has been an inspirational boost); Oneonta -- RB Tyler Smith (1,339 yards rushing, including 228 and three TDs last week), QB Cody O'Toole (2,180 passing yards with 43 TDs), WR Alvin Scott (72 receptions for 1,158 yards and 20 TDs), LBs Ethan Boyd and Thomas Boyd (twin brothers have combined for more than 200 total tackles)
NOTEWORTHY: UMS-Wright, ranked eighth in the final poll, aims for its fifth championship since 2001. Over that period, the Bulldogs have compiled a 39-7 record in the playoffs. Veteran coach Terry Curtis has an overall ledger of 231-74 in 24 seasons, the last 14 at UMS-Wright where his teams have gone 154-38. The Bulldog defense allows 24 points per game, the most of any state final participant, and the second-most of any team in Curtis' career. After allowing 42 to St. James in the first round -- the fourth time an opponent scored more than 40 this season -- the Bulldogs switched to a four-man defensive front that has sparked wins the past three weeks over teams ranked in the top seven.
Oneonta is one of two teams, along with Hoover, ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll to maintain its lofty perch all season and advance to the championship game. The Redskins' high-powered offense set a new school record with 651 points (46.5 per game), while the defense only allows 10.6 per outing. Oneonta has won every game by more than 15 points since a five-point victory over Class 5A Pinson Valley in their opener. The Redskins return to the finals after falling to Jackson last year. It is reminiscent of their last championship in 2004 which Oneonta won under current Hoover coach Josh Niblett after finishing as runner-up the previous season.
TANNER (13-0) vs. WASHINGTON COUNTY (13-1)
WHEN: 3 p.m. today
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Tanner def. Sand Rock, 55-0; Walter Wellborn, 48-0; Fultondale, 14-0; Reeltown, 35-14; Washington County def. Houston Academy, 42-0; Luverne, 34-7; Mobile Christian, 33-12; Sweet Water, 41-33
STATE PLAYOFF CHAMPIONSHIPS: Tanner -- none; Washington County -- none
LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: Tanner -- 2011 (lost to Elba, 34-14); Washington County -- first appearance
RECORD IN FINALS: Tanner, 0-1; Washington County, 0-0
LAST MEETING: First meeting
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Tanner -- QB Jonathon Fletcher (983 yards passing plus 359 rushing yards), RB Hayden Stephens (ran for 209 yards and 3 TDs last week), DL Baltazar Rubio (51 tackles with 4 sacks), LB Fred Rich (team-leading 72 tackles); Washington County -- LB DeMarcus Holcombe (101 total tackles), LB Garrett Thornton (92 tackles, 11 for loss), RB T.J. Kidd (337 yards on 16 carries with 3 TDs last week against Sweet Water), QB Dane Howard (three-year starter has 1,081 passing yards, 606 rushing yards)
Noteworthy: Tanner opened its season with a win over Class 3A finalist Madison Academy. The Rattlers outscored their first three playoff opponents by 117-0 before allowing 14 points to Reeltown in the semifinals, the second straight year Tanner eliminated the Rebels. For the season, Tanner's defense allows less than a touchdown per contest. The Rattlers are coached by former Alabama lineman Laron White, who has compiled a record of 104-21 in 10 seasons and lost to Elba last year in the school's first championship game appearance. White won three championships when playing for his father, Louis, a legendary coach at Courtland who won four state titles and finished runner-up twice from 1986 to 1995.
Washington County earned its first ticket to the state championship game by avenging an earlier loss to region rival Sweet Water, only their second home playoff loss in 25 games. Washington County had made it to the semifinals only two other times, the last one occurring in 2000. The Bulldogs established school records for wins and total points, finishing fourth in the final rankings. Washington County averages 33.4 points on offense where its potent ground attack accounts for 279 yards per game. On defense, the 33 points totaled by Sweet Water last week was the first time any team has scored more than 20 the entire season. Coach Chris Wilson is 31-8 in his three seasons, taking the Bulldogs deeper into postseason each year.
HOOVER (14-0) vs. OPELIKA (10-4)
WHEN: 7 p.m. today
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Hoover def. Shades Valley, 38-7; Pell City, 49-26; Vestavia Hills, 21-7; Clay-Chalkville, 44-20; Opelika def. Pelham, 49-23; Daphne, 24-17; Auburn, 8-7; Carver, 35-21
STATE PLAYOFF CHAMPIONSHIPS: Hoover -- 8 (1977, 1982 co-champion as Berry; 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009 as Hoover); Opelika -- none
LAST FINALS APPEARANCE: Hoover -- 2010 (lost to Prattville, 35-34); Opelika -- first appearance
RECORD IN FINALS: Hoover, 7-7-1; Opelika, 0-0
LAST MEETING: Hoover 30, Opelika 7 (November 1, 2012)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Hoover -- DB Marlon Humphrey (the son of former Alabama star Bobby Humphrey is considered one of the nation's top defensive back prospects in the Class of 2014), QB Conner Short (passed for 2,736 yards and 31 TDs), WR Michael Powers (1,087 receiving yards with 12 TDs), RB Calen Campbell (1,285 rushing yards with 17 TDs); Opelika -- DB Malcolm Buggs (sealed win over G.W. Carver with late 100-yard interception return), RB Calvin Bryant (225-pound battering ram has 1,017 yards rushing), WR Marquise Fulton (42 receptions for 588 yards), QB Matthew Christian (sophomore has thrown for more than 1,400 yards and has shown great poise during playoffs)
NOTEWORTHY: Hoover has become synonymous with championship game appearances as the Bucs compete in their fifth straight final and 12th in the past 13 seasons. Excluding a 6-6 mark in 2007 when Hoover was stripped of four wins due to an ineligible player, the Bucs have posted a staggering record of 165-13 since 2000 with six state championships. Coach Josh Niblett has taken the Bucs to the finals in each of his five seasons but is only 1-3 in his previous trips. Those three losses were by a combined five points, with two of those coming to Prattville. Niblett also won a championship at Oneonta in 2004. Hoover's stout defense allows less than 10 points per contest, and has won every game by at least two touchdowns.
Opelika limped into the playoffs with a 6-4 record after closing the regular season with losses to Auburn and Hoover. But the Bulldogs used the stage of postseason to gain a measure of redemption. Opelika defeated No. 4 Auburn in the quarterfinals, and then avenged an earlier loss to Carver by eliminating the third-ranked Wolverines in last week's semifinals. The Bulldogs hope the magic continues when they face No. 1 Hoover in pursuit of their first state championship. Opelika is the first team with at least four losses to make it to the state finals since 1999, when Robert E. Lee (8-6), Williamson (10-4) and Courtland (8-6) made it to their respective title games.