By Joshua Huff, sports editor
GARDENDALE — Pinson Valley weathered a listless first half on Friday night and proceeded to unleash a potent ground game that recorded three rushing touchdowns in the second half to silence previously undefeated Gardendale, 21-0, before a raucous Rockets homecoming crowd.
The Indians were led by a resurgent running game in the second half that wore down a top-ranked Gardendale defense that was used to playing with a comfortable lead. Running back Kenji Christian recorded two rushing touchdowns and quarterback Barry White added one rushing touchdown.
Christian rushed 27 times for 176 yards. Pinson Valley recorded 321 yards of total offense with 254 of those yards coming on the ground.
“We’re learning a lot about our team from week to week,” Pinson Valley head coach Patrick Nix said. “This is a young team. A new team. We’re getting better each week, each snap. I’m very proud of all the guys.”
The first half provided no indicator of what was to come in the second half. Both Gardendale and Pinson dabbled in the run game, but both teams focused more on a passing attack that has proved fruitful for both squads in previous outings throughout this season. That was not the case for either team on this night as balls were dropped left and right, passes were missed and penalty flags were tossed around like beads at Mardi Gras.
“We’ve learned that this team has to find different ways to win,” Nix said.
That adjustment would not take place until halftime as Pinson Valley seemed content early in the first half to probe the defense of Gardendale with sporadic runs; however, the Rockets’ defense proved up to the task at the time. The issue for Gardendale, though, was that the Indians’ defense was up for the challenge, as well.
Gardendale opened the first quarter with multiple drives that started within its own 10-yard line. The second such drive resulted in a three-and-out that set the Indians up at Gardendale’s 42-yard line. Pinson Valley was able to drive to within the 16-yard line, but the Indians were unable to punch it in.
Pinson Valley’s subsequent field goal missed.
The Rockets’ offense found some momentum early in the second quarter, but a third down pass by quarterback Will Crowder was intercepted in the endzone by Pinson Valley’s Deshazio Williams with 7:35 left in the first half. That ended Gardendale’s desire to throw the ball down the field for the remainder of the first half.
“The defense has been stellar all year,” Nix said of the unit, which entered the night tied for second with Gardendale for fewest points allowed in the region.
Pinson Valley held the Rockets to just 23 yards passing and 21 yards rushing on the night.
Pinson Valley’s offensive slumber jolted itself to a somewhat conscious state with two minutes left in the first half behind a big run from Christian. Even with a Gardendale penalty that afforded Pinson Valley one last shot with time expired, the Indians were unable to capitalize as White threw an interception to Gardendale’s Derek Carter in the endzone to end the half.
The Indians reemerged from halftime with some pep in their step and intent on focusing solely on the ground game. That shift in gameplan paid off immediately as the Indians marched down the field to open the second half with a methodical drive that was spurred on by a 33-yard run from Jaquel Fells, which set up White’s 2-yard touchdown run.
“It wasn’t confidence in the run game,” Nix said about the second-half adjustment. “They were putting 14 guys out there to cover. We have the best receivers in the state. They said you’re not going to throw it to them, and if they say that, you have to be able to run the football.”
Now with a 7-0 lead, and with an understanding on just what Gardendale’s weakness was, the Indians patiently pounded the rock with surgical precision. The Rockets had no answer as Pinson Valley’s Christian would increase the lead after he found the endzone on a 5-yard plunge up the middle to put Pinson Valley up 14-0 with 2:40 left in the third quarter.
Again, Gardendale had no response.
White would hit receiver Keyonteze Johnson on a 41-yard pass to begin the fourth quarter, which set up Christian’s 2-yard touchdown run to increase Pinson Valley’s lead to 21-0.
Gardendale added a potentially major injury to the indignity of being manhandled by Pinson Valley as Crowder went down nearly midway through the fourth quarter. He remained on the ground for several minutes. He did not return.
Of note: White would proceed to throw another interception with 3:26 left in the game in what was essentially garbage time.
“We challenged our guys at halftime that we’ve got to be able to run the football,” Nix said. “And they responded really well.”