VALLEY — B.J. Baker ran for 123 yards, the Rams’ defense was as stingy as the cold, and Valley defeated Vigor 21-6 on Friday night to earn Valley its first playoff win since 2011.
Baker ran in a separation touchdown from one yard out with 13 seconds left in the first half to put the Rams up 14-0 going into the break, before Tino Linson picked off Vigor on the opening series of the second half and returned his interception 35 yards for a touchdown to help make it 21-0, and help push Valley on toward the second round.
Valley will host Ramsay next Friday night in the second round of the playoffs. Ramsay is the 9-2 runner-up team from Class 5A-Region 4.
“We’re excited,” Valley head coach Buster Daniel said as his Rams celebrated on the field. “It was an ugly game. But an ugly win is better than a loss.
“We’ll take it.”
Valley moved on to 7-4 on the season. The Rams entered the playoffs as the Class 5A-Region 2 champions after going 5-1 in league play.
Vigor, a Class 5A state finalist team from 2018, saw its season end at 4-7 after backing in as the fourth seed in Class 5A-Region 1.
Linson’s pick-six highlighted a dominating performance by the Valley defense on Friday night. The Rams held Vigor to a total loss of eight yards in the game’s first half, shutting out the Wolves through the first two quarters of play. Baker’s touchdown came after a muffed punt lost by Vigor with less than two minutes left to play in that first half.
After a scoreless first quarter, Valley opened up the game with a 44-yard touchdown pass earlier in the second from quarterback K.D. Hutchinson to big defensive end Jaden Hamlin, in at tight end.
“We didn’t get down when we got penalties. We stayed positive,” Hutchinson said after the win.
“We stayed punching. We stayed going. We were determined.”
Vigor got on the board midway through the third, but Valley’s defense responded from there, with Joshua Heath coming down with an interception near the goal line late in the third and then the Ram defense coming up with another red zone stop with a turnover on downs early in the fourth after a quick turnover by the Valley offense.
Vigor never got to the red zone again until the final minutes when it was still a two-score game with little time left.
“I’ll put my defense up against anybody, any day, and I know they’re going to come through,” Hutchinson said.
As Baker boldly put it: “We’ve got the best defense in 5A.”
Baker and Hutchinson are both sophomores, who were only youngsters when Valley last won a playoff game in 2011. The Rams have made it to the postseason in all three seasons under Daniel, but got over the hump and into the second round this year.
“We’ve succeeded this year and we’re going to keep succeeding — all through five games,” Baker said.
In the second half, Vigor’s offense adjusted, but so did the Ram defense. Vigor quarterback Michael Towner fired for 255 yards, with all of that coming in the second half and all but nine yards of it coming after Linson’s third-quarter pick-six. But Valley prevented big plays even as Vigor opened up the field, and forced Valley to dink and dunk as time wound down on a frigid night in Valley.
“They’re a pretty good team and they found something they could do, throwing little quick hitches and quick passes, and took advantage of it,” Daniel said. “But our guys, they’d bend but didn’t break.”
Ramsay beat Demopolis 34-12 on Friday night to advance to next week’s showdown with Valley.
“It’s great, but we can’t relax,” Hutchinson said of the win. “We’re playing Ramsay next week. We know we’ve got to come out harder. Mistakes we made this week, we can’t make them next week.
“We’ve got our ticket. Now we’ve got to punch it in.”
Valley 21, Vigor 6
VIG 0 0 6 0—6
VAL 0 14 7 0—21
VAL—Jaden Hamlin 44-yard pass from K.D. Hutchinson (XP good), 4:55
VAL—B.J. Baker 1-yard run (XP good), 0:13
VAL—Tino Linson 35-yard interception return (XP good), 10:30
VIG—Kristopher Agee 27-yard pass from Michael Towner (pass failed) 5:50