By David Knox, Sports Editor
PINSON – The Pinson Valley Indians finished as the third-place team in Class 6A, Region 6. But the Indians (7-3, 4-2) are sitting where every playoff team sits – 0-0.
It’s the second season for 32 teams in Class 6A, and the Indians open with a visit to Jackson-Olin (8-2), the runner-up in Region 5. Kickoff is 7 p.m. at 4,500-capacity J-O Field, which is on the school campus on off Avenue F in the Birmingham neighborhood of Ensley.
The Mustangs, coached by Tim Vakakes, were 4-2 in region play, tied with Hueytown behind champion Ramsay. But J-O beat the Golden Gophers 31-21 to earn the No. 2 spot. Hueytown travels to Gardendale to open the playoffs.
The Indians seem to be playing their best football of the season at the right time. They’ve won six of their past seven games since suffering back-to-back losses to Ramsay and Minor. The only other blemish was a last-play loss to Gardendale.
Included in those wins were first-time wins over Clay-Chalkville, a stirring double-overtime win, and a first-time win over Walker in Jasper, a second defeat of McAdory in as many years and a thumping of Pleasant Grove last Friday to close the regular season.
Glover will quickly tell you that time has long passed for Pinson Valley to be relegated to pulling occasional upsets and to be happy just to make the playoffs.
“It’s time for us to beat people we’re not supposed to beat on a regular basis,” Glover said. “We need to host playoffs games and we need to get past the second round.”
The Indians were one-and-done the past two postseasons. They made it to the second round in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The Indians have never made it beyond that point, however.
This is the seventh consecutive playoff trip in Glover’s eighth season as head coach.
The Indians have split two games with J-O, back in 1992 and ’93 when they were both in Class 5A, Region 10. Earl Cheatham was the Mustangs’ coach and Lynne Elkins was the Indians’ chief. J-O won the region in 1993 under the legendary coach, its first region title, but after he retired things slowly disintegrated. Michael Clisby kept it going for a while, winning region titles in 1996 and 1997. But from 1998-2012, things weren’t very good on the football field for J-O.
The school merged with Ensley High in 2006 and was bumped up in class with new students at a new facility. The Mustangs couldn’t keep up with the teams in Class 6A, Region 5. The low point came in 2012, a 1-9 season. The lone win was by forfeit over Northridge. The final game of the season was a J-O forfeit, a game called in the third quarter because the Mustangs and their opponent, Huffman, had so many players ejected for fighting that there weren’t enough players left to field a team.
J-O had posted a 16-54 record in 6A, Region 5 when then-34-year-old Tim Vakakes, son and a longtime assistant to his father, Jim, at Fairfield, took on the challenge. The first year – Hoover and Bessemer City were in Region 5 by now – the Mustangs were 1-9. In 2014, however, with a season under Vakakes and his assistant coach-father, plus the shuffle “down” to the new 6A, the Mustangs began the transformation.
They went 4-6 and 3-7 over the next two seasons, just missing the playoffs. This year came the breakthrough 8-2 season and their first playoff berth since 1999. When the Mustangs beat Fairfield last week 20-9, their first win over the Tigers since 2000, it was a far cry from the ugly 2012 season.
“Coach Vakakes does a great job,” Glover said. “We know they’ll be tough.”
Look for Pinson Valley to test the Mustangs’ defensive line with the running of Khymel Chaverst, who topped 1,000 yards this year. But J-O has improved tremendously on defense. A team that gave up 42 points per game in 2013 is allowing under 16 ppg this year. Auburn commitment TaDarian Moultry, a 6-foot-2, 225-pounder rated at four-stars, is the top outside linebacker in the state.
Offensive coordinator Jon Clements won’t be afraid to turn Jackie Matthews loose, either, as the junior quarterback has been accurate and effective while staying in the pocket and throwing to Dilan Henderson, Liallen Dailey and Orion Morris. The key has been an excellent offensive line. Matthews will have to keep an eye on Moultry, who had 13 tackles and forced a fumble against Fairfield.
“We’ve got a bellcow we can really rally around,” Vakakes said. “Having him on defense raises the level of play of everyone around him.”
Offensively, J-O is quarterbacked by Bralan Johnson, a 5-11, 205 junior, and features Tr’yveon Hutchins at wide receiver/slotback and senior Johnathan McIntosh at running back. Hutchins is 5-6, 140, and McIntosh is 5-8, 153.
Pinson Valley will have to contain the quarterback and make sure they wrap up the athletic Mustangs’ skill players in space.
J-O’s schedule wasn’t the toughest. The Mustangs easily beat four Class 5A teams (Woodlawn, Tuscaloosa-Central, Calera and Fairfield).
Both teams played Ramsay. PV lost 31-15 in a game that was closer than the score; J-O lost 45-27. The Mustangs’ other loss was 13-12 to Homewood. Both teams beat Shades Valley. PV won 28-25 while J-O won 24-21.