By Gary Lloyd
PINSON — The most popular kid at Pinson Valley High School is a freshman.
Saul Rios kicked an 18-yard field goal in overtime to give Pinson Valley a 23-20 down-to-the-wire victory over visiting Hartselle on Friday at Willie Adams Stadium.
The kick was pulled left, a line drive that looked more like a solid single to left-center than a game-winning field goal. But it was good.
“We’re going to the second round,” said a grinning Rios. “I’m so excited.”
Pinson Valley (7-4) will travel to Class 5A No. 10 McAdory (9-2) next Friday for the second round of the playoffs.
“I just wanted to cry,” Rios said of the charge of students who rushed toward him on the field and bellowed “Sauuuul!” after the game.
Hartselle (8-3) had eliminated Pinson Valley from the state playoffs in the first round in 2010 by a 35-27 margin and the second round in 2011 by a score of 22-21, a game won in the final seconds on a field goal. Pinson Valley lost to Muscle Shoals 22-21 in the second round last season.
“It’s sweet redemption because we’ve lost two years in a row by field goals, by extra points,” said Pinson Valley head coach Matt Glover. “I told the kids to fight, to keep fighting. We played a really, really good football team. I was really proud.”
Hartselle looked to be in control late in the game. Junior cornerback Juray Smith, however, intercepted a Jacob Tiffin pass with 2:57 to play. Trailing 20-13, Pinson Valley wasted little time moving down the field. Senior quarterback Brooks Garrett hit junior Trey Underwood for a 35-yard gain on the first play of the drive, setting up the Indians at the Hartselle 24-yard line. Junior running back Nick Gibson scored on a 17-yard run two plays later to tie the game at 20.
“It was make or break time,” Garrett said.
In overtime, Hartselle kicker John Waterman missed a 22-yard field goal on the first possession. Gibson rushed for nine yards on three plays to set up the game-winning field goal.
“We stepped it up,” said Gibson, who rushed 31 times for 142 yards and a touchdown. “Everybody did their job. I’m happy.”
Hartselle got on the board first early in the first quarter when Tiffin found D’Andre Mack for a 67-yard touchdown. Pinson Valley tied the game midway through the opening quarter when Garrett threw a strike to Underwood for a 26-yard TD. Waterman kicked a 21-yard field goal to give Hartselle a 10-7 lead with 2:56 left in the first quarter. Pinson Valley answered on its next drive, scoring on a beautiful 31-yard touchdown pass from Garrett to sophomore Desmond Williams in double coverage. After the extra point attempt was blocked, the Indians led 13-10.
Tiffin threw a six-yard TD pass to Tobias Mitchell late in the second quarter, giving the Tigers a 17-13 halftime lead. Waterman’s 41-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter put Hartselle on top 20-13.
For Hartselle, Masio Stover rushed 27 times for 93 yards. Mack added 67 rushing yards on 19 carries. Tiffin completed 4-of-12 passes — just one in the second half and overtime — for 89 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted twice by Smith.
For Pinson Valley, Garrett completed 11-of-23 passes for 149 yards and two TDs. He was intercepted twice by Zeth Malcon. Defensively, junior linebacker Nathan Cunningham had three tackles for loss. Senior Elijah Bibbs added two tackles for loss and a pass breakup.
The win was a big one for Pinson Valley players, who remembered the past playoff losses to Hartselle.
“I don’t care what it took, we were going to get this game,” Gibson said.
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