At the very least, Arab’s football team finished the regular season on a high note before taking on one of the best Class 6A teams in the state in the first round of the high school playoffs tomorrow night.
Coming off a hugely disappointing loss at Region 7 foe Springville the week before, the Knights bounced back last week to defeat Marshall County rival Boaz at home, 27-8. The win evened Arab’s overall record at 5-5 and buoyed the spirits of the Knights’ coaching staff, especially the defensive coaches.
“We played much harder, I’ll say that,” said defensive coordinator Buddy Pell. “We played with a lot more effort.”
Head coach Lee Ozmint agreed, and took it a step further.
“We played one of our best games of the season on both sides of the football,” Ozmint said. “I felt like our kids, even before the game, were more focused than we were the week before.
“We were dialed in and focused. A young team has to learn to do that, how to dial in and focus.”
Arab will need all the focus and dialing in it can muster when it takes on Pinson Valley at Willie Adams Stadium tomorrow night. The Indians won the Class 6A, Region 6 with a 6-0 record, advancing as the top seed.
Arab is the No. 4 seed of Region 7. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
Ozmint, like Pell, was particularly happy with the defense’s performance. Rarely during the last two seasons has the offense been a problem for Arab, but Ozmint notes it’s easier to play offense at the high school level.
“You call the play. You know what you’re going to do and where the ball’s going,” he said. “You don’t have that on defense. You’re reacting.”
Ozmint’s biggest complaint with the defense this season and last is inconsistent performance and players not performing like they practice. That wasn’t the case against Boaz.
“There were moments where the defense did exactly what we coached them to do,” Ozmint said.
The offense held up its end, as usual. Sophomore quarterback Aidan Cox was 11-for-14 passing for 169 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for one score.
Dakota NeSmith, another sophomore, had two of the TD receptions for a total of 35 yards.
And Mathew Turnage turned in yet another 100-plus yard performance, carrying the ball 28 times for 164 yards. He didn’t rush for TD but he caught a pass for a score and had 32 receiving yards.
John Wesson Johnson had another big night catching the ball, taking in six receptions for 69 yards.
NeSmith’s two TD receptions came early and gave the Knights a 14-0 advantage. The first one was for 15 yards with 3:32 left in the opening quarter. The second one came on a 4-and-11 pass by Cox that went for that distance with 9:36 left in the half.
Cox scored on a 1-yard QB sneak with 7:51 left in the third quarter. Because Boaz went for two and made after its second-quarter TD, Arab went for two but a bad snap spoiled the play, leaving the score at 20-8.
Turnage took a screen pass from Cox and raced 28 yards for the final TD of the game with 2:51 left in the third quarter. The Knights elected to run some clock and play some reserves the rest of the way.
Ozmint knows it won’t be that easy against Pinson Valley, a team he says has Oxford-class talent.
Indeed, much like Oxford, the Indians feature several players who will play at the next level come next season. At least four of them – all seniors – know where they’re headed.
The biggest name is 6-foot-1, 185-pound wide receiver/cornerback Koolaid McKinstry, who is expected to play cornerback for the Crimson Tide and will wear No. 1 against Arab.
Kenji Christian (No. 5), a senior running back, is committed to Virginia Tech. Left offensive tackle Rayvon Crum (No. 60) is headed to North Texas. And wide receiver Micah Woods (No. 6) will play his college ball at UNA,
Former Alabama standout Sam Shade is the Indians’ head coach.
“Athlete for athlete, there will be no mismatches in our favor,” Ozmint said candidly. “We have to play together as team, and if we do, I think we’re going to have a chance,
“But we’re going to playing against a ton of good players. Hey, welcome to 6A football.”