By Justin Nails
PINSON—Pinson Valley will begin their march back to the state championship game starting with Albertville on Friday. The Aggies finished the 2018 season 6-4 and 2-3 in the region making them the four-seed from region 8. This is only the fourth time that Pinson Valley and Albertville have played with the Indians holding a 4-0 record. The last time these two teams played Pinson Valley won 56-23.
Pinson Valley finished off their 2018 season with an impressive 8-game winning streak after defeating Lee Huntsville last Friday night 45-0. For as good as the defense has been all year, the shutout to cap off the regular season is a good sign for a unit that gets overlooked because of Bo Nix and the offense. If the Indians are to repeat as champions, they may just do so on the back of this stingy defense. Led by Antoine Williams, Joel Parker and Gaquincey McKinstry, this defense has key components at every level to effectively stop any offense in 6A.
As for the offense, the keys to victory on Friday night will be the same formula they’ll need to win throughout the playoffs. The wide receivers need to continue to get better at consistently catching the ball. Bo Nix only completed around 50% of his passes last Friday night, much of those came on dropped passes. With starting running back Jay Sharp out for the season, it will be imperative for the wide receivers to help move the chains every chance they get. As for the running backs, Mike Sharp should get the bulk of the carries as he has been the number two guy on the depth chart for most of the year but the Indians will use a number of backs in rotation to help keep the offense balanced.
As for Albertville, I spoke with Sand Mountain Reporter’s Shannon Allen to get a deeper look at the Aggies. This is Albertville’s third playoff birth in Dale Pruitt’s four seasons as the head coach. The Aggies run a Wing-T offense, led by senior running back Jacob Dendy, who has rushed for 1,684 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2018. The Aggies are led by senior quarterback Isaiah Pankey, who took over as the starter in early October against Lee-Huntsville. Since then, Aggies are 3-1 with Pankey under center. This type of offense will challenge the front seven of Pinson Valley as they haven’t faced an offense that runs a pure option attack like the Aggies do. Lee Huntsville is probably the closest thing as Lee ran a pistol-based rushing attack with the threat of a downfield passing attack. The Aggies are going to run the ball and run it a lot.
Albertville’s defense is led by defensive lineman Kameron Smith, linebacker Noah Groves, linebacker Cade Boman and defensive back Matthew Nixon. Boman has 65 tackles on the year and Nixon has 63 through nine games this season. From these stats, it looks like the back half of the defense does a very good job of attacking the ball and making tackles. Bo Nix does a good job of getting his wide receivers the ball in space so making tacklers miss and getting upfield will be key for the Indians.
The game also has a family bond that links Albertville and Pinson Valley. Patrick Nix’s father, Conrad, was Albertville’s head coach in 1986 and 1987. Conrad Nix coached the Aggies to playoff berths both years, the first postseason appearances in school history. Current Albertville head coach Dale Pruitt was an assistant coach for Conrad Nix at Haleyville in the early 1980s so both coaches should be more than familiar with each other. As for a prediction, the Indians are rolling into the playoffs with an 8-game win streak and possibly the best defense in 6A football. Even though I think they’ll be tested by the sheer number of runs that Albertville will run on Friday night, Pinson Valley should room care of business fairly easily.
Game time starts at 7:00 p.m. at Willie Adams Stadium.