For the first time since 2013, the Valley Rams will open the playoffs at home. In order to make it to the second round, they’ll have to take down one of the state’s top teams from a year ago.
Valley (6-4, 5-1) hosts Vigor (4-6, 3-3) tonight to open the Class 5A playoffs. The Rams enter the postseason after a 14-0 loss to Benjamin Russell, while the Wolves are fresh off an 18-0 loss to Williamson.
The Rams were forced to play short-handed at Benjamin Russell last week, as quarterback KD Hutchinson and wide receiver Quez Trammell were held out due to concussions. The situation only got worse due to injuries during the non-region game against the Wildcats, which included running back BJ Baker leaving the game in the third quarter.
With some of their best playmakers on offense sidelined, the Rams were shut out for the first time since October 2018.
“We played a pretty good 6A football team whose record wasn’t great, but it was because they’re in a really, really tough region. They were better than people thought. We just didn’t perform very well, especially offensively,” Valley head coach Buster Daniel said. “The defense played pretty good, but offensively we had 79 yards of total offense, which is very uncharacteristic of us.
“Our starting quarterback was out, our starting receiver was out and I lost another starting receiver to a thumb injury. I’m not making excuses, but we just didn’t perform very well. We didn’t deserve to win that game.”
Luckily for Daniel, the injury issues from a week ago appear to have resolved themselves. Daniel said he expects everyone who was banged up last week to be ready to suit up against the Wolves.
“We’re all good this week. All hands are on deck and ready to go,” Daniel said.
The recovery of some of the Rams’ best players was no doubt welcomed by Daniel, especially given who Valley has to play to start the playoffs.
Vigor graduated 39 seniors from a 2018 team that lost the state championship 43-42 to Central-Clay County, and the Wolves have certainly felt their absence this year. The Wolves enter the matchup with the Rams having lost four straight games, the latest being their second shutout defeat of the fall.
Even with Vigor’s lackluster season, Daniel credited the Wolves as being very athletic and noted they have been dealing with injuries just like Valley. Vigor only has six seniors this year, and their lack of upperclassmen combined with players getting hurt has forced younger players to step up.
Daniel said it’s not evident whether Brennan Maye Jordan or Benjamin Bennett will play quarterback for the Wolves, but he knows both are very athletic. He said Vigor’s offense has players who can beat you if you don’t tackle well, and defensively they aren’t the biggest but are quick to the football.
Daniel acknowledged Vigor has something Valley lacks: playoff experience. The Rams’ one-and-done in the playoffs last year was the team’s first postseason berth since 2013; the Wolves, meanwhile, have made it to at least the second round every season since 2014.
“Experience is the key to everything, really. They’re used to playing deep in the playoffs. They’re well-coached, and any time you get good athletes who are well-coached they’re going to be a tough football team,” Daniel said. “Their experience in the playoffs is something we don’t have. We played one game last year. A lot of my guys who are on the team now weren’t even playing in that game.”
Daniel called for his defense to continue its stellar play and for Baker and his teammates to have a bounce-back game running the football. Additionally, Daniel said the offense needs to control the clock, pick up first downs and avoid mistakes.
One of the Rams’ major goals this fall was to win the region, but taking first place in Region 2-5A isn’t where their to-do list ended. Valley wants to accomplish even more before the year ends, and those remaining missions start tonight in front of their home crowd.
“I hope our crowd’s big. Most young kids, when you’re dealing with 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds, most of the time they don’t handle being on the road very well. That’s a big plus for us,” Daniel said. “It’s big to be at home and have our home crowd cheering for us. The kids play off that kind of thing, so that’s huge for us.”