Finishing the regular season at 6-4, the Fort Payne Wildcats open the 2021 postseason with a visit to the Briarwood Christian Lions at Lions Pride Stadium in Birmingham on Friday.

Kickoff to the first-round game of the AHSAA Class 6A state playoffs is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Fort Payne head coach Chris Elmore said the Lions (9-1) do a great job of being very multiple on offense.

They can spread the ball around and throw it all over the field. But, they also have the capability of having a very physical run game,” he said. “They have a good short-yardage offense when they get in those situations. It is a very difficult offense to defend because they are so balanced.”

Propelling Briarwood’s offense are quarterback Christopher Vizzina and running back Luke Reebals. 

Vizzina, a junior, has collegiate football offers that include Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State and Notre Dame, among others — 20 total offers to date, according to the recruiting database Rivals.

“Obviously, he is very talented and he can beat you with his arm and his legs,” Elmore said of Vizzina.

Elmore described Reebals, a senior, as “a tough runner who can also catch the ball out of the backfield. He presents a lot of problems when it comes to matchups.”

In last week’s regular-season finale, Reebals had nine carries for 82 yards and three touchdowns, adding 37 yards on two receptions in the Lions’ 40-15 victory against Corner.

Vizzina completed 6 of 7 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns, including a 25-yard rushing score. Rushing and receiving combined, Cooper Higgins collected 62 yards, Ethan Anderson tallied 60 yards on two catches with a touchdown and Luke Gilbert chipped in a 64-yard catch-and-run score.

In order to slow Briarwood’s offense, Elmore said the key will be tackling well.

“(The Lions) will make plays because they have good players and are very well-coached,” he said. “We will have to tackle them in space and we will have to be able to pressure the QB. But, when we pressure the QB, we will have to contain him because he makes plays while throwing on the run. 

“This is by far the most complete offense we have seen all year and Vizzina is one of the best QB’s in the state. It will be a tremendous challenge for our defense.”

Highlighting Briarwood’s defense is senior Miller Stubblefield. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, the defensive end provides the defensive line with length and good hands, Elmore said. At cornerback, Anderson is another defensive standout, the coach said.

The Lions enter as Region 5’s second seed, while Fort Payne earned the No. 3 seed from Region 7.

Briarwood’s lone loss of the season was 14-0 against Mountain Brook on Oct. 7, ending a seven-game winning streak.

Fort Payne has never beaten the Lions in any of the three previous postseason matchups, according to the Alabama High School Football Historical Society’s website. 

In the last meeting, Briarwood defeated Fort Payne 28-20 in Week 0 of the 2020 season. The game did not count toward Fort Payne’s record, as it was agreed to be played as a replacement game.

Auburn commit Alex McPherson kicked four field goals, including one from a state record 61 yards, and Jake Barnes threw two touchdown passes to Ricky Adame in Fort Payne’s 32-7 win against North Jackson last Friday night.

McPherson’s 61-yard field goal with 4 minutes left in regulation for the game’s final tally was a new state record, according to the AHSAA’s account of individual football records on the organization’s website. The previous record for the state’s longest field goal kick from snap to hold was set by his older brother and current Cincinnati Bengals kicker Evan McPherson (60 yards set against Brewer in 2017).

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