By JIMMY WIGFIELD
Defending Class 6A state champion Saraland will open the 2023 season at home against two-time defending Tennessee state champion Lipscomb Academy on Aug. 25, Spartans coach Jeff Kelly announced Thursday.
“We’ve been looking for a couple of months for the right opportunity to play somebody out of state, somebody with a great track record and reputation to give us a good measuring stick to kick things off,” Kelly said. “Playing a game like that will also help the summer go better because the kids understand it and know we’ll need to be ready to go right out of the gate.”
The game will feature at least four of the top college football prospects in the Southeast.
The Spartans will be led by five-star wide receiver and Alabama commitment Ryan Williams, the first sophomore to be named the state’s Mr. Football, four-star quarterback K.J. Lacey, three other juniors who have received Division I offers and potentially 22 total prospects.
But the Mustangs’ defense should pose a serious challenge to a Saraland offense which averaged 43 points per game last season as it has the top two prospects in Tennessee in senior defensive back Kaleb Beasley and senior linebacker Edwin Spillman, both four-star recruits. Lipscomb allowed only one touchdown in three playoff games last year.
The Spartans and Mustangs will be favored to repeat as champions in their respective states. Saraland returns 18 of 22 starters from last year’s 14-1 team and Lipscomb — which has won five state championships and finished as runner-up four other times — will carry Tennessee’s longest winning streak at 21 straight games into the showdown, including a 24-14 win over four-time defending Alabama Class 7A state champion Thompson last August.
Many are clamoring for a Saraland-Thompson game to start the season and Kelly hasn’t ruled it out at some point.
“It didn’t work out to play Thompson but it might work out in the future,” he said.
The Mustangs dominated opponents last year under coach Trent Dilfer, the former NFL All-Pro quarterback who won Super Bowl XXXV with the Baltimore Ravens and has since taken the UAB job. Lipscomb won six of its 13 games by 40 points or more and scored 70 points twice while allowing only 6 points per game.
“This game came together really quick,” Kelly said. “It was intriguing.”
Other than the opener against the Mustangs, Saraland’s schedule remains the same as last year:
Sept. 1 vs. Murphy at Ladd-Peebles Stadium*
Sept. 8 St. Paul’s*
Sept. 15 at Spanish Fort*
Sept. 22 Robertsdale*
Sept. 29 Foley
Oct. 6 at Blount*
Oct. 13 Baldwin County*
Oct. 20 Open
Oct. 27 Theodore*
Nov. 3 at McGill-Toolen*