In a battle between two Class 6A, Region 6 heavyweights, the Gardendale Rockets will go on the road to play the Pinson Valley Indians in a big region game. Both teams are favorites on winning the region but the winner will have the tie breaker between the two teams that could mean something at the end of the season.
Gardendale (2-0) has wins over 7A teams Sparkman and Smiths Station. While most teams canceled on long bus trips due to Covid-19 health concerns, Gardendale felt like they could do it in a safely manner and pulled it off last Friday night going to Smiths Station. "We did everything that we were asked to do and more," said Rockets Head coach Chad Eads. "We wore our masks when we rode on the bus even though it was hard to sleep with them on but it is what were going to do to keep our team safe."
On offense, the Rockets have quarterback Will "Goose" Crowder leading the way. The West Virginia verbal commitment is having a great start to the season completing 31-of-45 passing for 364 yards and four touchdowns through two games. "Will sees the coverages and makes good decisions and suggestions, " added Eads. "We talk to him on Friday mornings to make sure he is comfortable with the game plan. He does a great job of seeing things on the field. We trust his opinion and he has good thoughts and sees things from that quarterback perspective. "
The Gardendale running game has LT Sanders at running back. The junior running rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown with two catches for 27 yards against Sparkman. If Sanders doesn't have it, look the Crowder to pull it and make some plays for the Rockets ground game.
At wide receiver, backup quarterback Caden McGruder, Rue Ross, Carmelo Gurley and Brendon Pickens get playing time. Defensive backs Derek Carter and Justin Parks flip over to the offense and are big time receivers for the Rockets. Carter and Parks alternate offensive series on their playing time. When the Rockets need a tight end, Nick Odom comes in and is a big target for Crowder.
The offensive line is solid with Jafet Colato, Joseph Harold, Cole Jenkins, Blake Lowe and Nathan Wright. "The knowledge of the offense has been good for the offensive line," said Eads. "Right tackle Nathan Wright started halfway through last season. Cole Jenkins moved over from the defense last year at guard has made the most adjustment to make. Sparkman gave us different fronts but we did a good job of adjustments and communicating to one another. We were able to change blocking schemes and they are a very intelligent group."
The Rockets defense has only given up two touchdowns in two games. Ball control on offense has been a part of it eating up the time of possession but the defense is very good. The defense has great players on all three levels.
The defensive line with Kelby Collins, Isaiah Robinson and Caleb Harrell take on the blocks and get to the backfield. Collins is a big time pass rusher while Robinson and Harrell gobble up blockers for the linebackers. Defensive lineman Riley Dunn comes in the game during short yardage situations.
The Rockets linebackers have Kenny McShan. The Navy verbal commitment is a tackling machine that goes from sideline to sideline. McShan is looking for the Rockets to make a deeper run in the playoffs this season. Nick Rigdon, Cole Fuller and Kejuan Brown round out the linebackers.
In the secondary, Parks roams the secondary making sure the big play doesn't happen. The senior safety is a verbal commitment to Arkansas State. "Justin is a physical player," said Eads. "He has great energy at practice. A smart kid that can make athletic plays. He sees things in front of him and can physically react to the." Moore is the other safety for the Rockets.
When not on offense, Carter goes to cornerback and will probably take the other teams number one receiver. Dallas Young is the corner on the other side of the field.
For Pinson Valley (1-1), they come off a 10-point win over Shades Valley. "Shades Valley did some things on offense that we haven't seen much," said Indians Head coach Sam Shade. "The second half, we played better with good execution on offense and defense that gave us the chance to win the game."
The Indians quarterback is Zach Pyron. The junior QB is making the transition from 2A Fyffe to 6A Pinson Valley. "It has been a transition with a new coaching staff and a new offense," said Shade. "He has done a good job with the transition. I think as our season goes on were all going to get better each week."
The running game is solid with a tremendous 1-2 punch. Kenji Christian and Mike Sharpe are solid. "Kenji can get to an edge and the defense lose containment and he can take it to the house," added Shade. "Mike is a north-south runner. Great vision but a tough runner between the tackles." Christian is a Virginia Tech verbal commitment.
At receiver, GaQuincy "Kool-Aid" McKinstry will be the best skilled athlete on the field. The senior WR/CB has trimmed his college choices down to Georgia, Auburn, Clemson, LSU and Alabama. Look for a lot of double teams coming his way and that will open opportunities for the other receivers. Devin Kelly, Taborie Reed and Mario Byrd will get opportunities in the passing game. One weapon that the Indians will need to get involved in the offense is Jaquel Fells who can catch it or run it.
On the offensive line, Rayvon Crum leads the Indians offensive line. Crum has many offers that include East Carolina, Kansas, Louisiana, USF and West Virginia. Martinez Claughton and Joel Brown are solid on the offensive line.
On defense, the defensive line has played well. James Perkins is an Air Force verbal commitment is the anchor. Add in Julian Peterson and Joshua Mitchell have played well.
At linebacker, Kaniji Chandler and Noah Steen are steady. Defensive back Amon Scarbrough leads the secondary with two interceptions this season.
"Our team hopefully will get better as the season goes on," said Shade. "We haven't been together long. For us we haven't been around our players like most schools being our first year at Pinson Valley. Most coaches have seen players since their days at middle school but we haven't had that opportunity to see what all our players do. Every week, we are learning more and more about our players that will help us when time goes on."