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Rams hosts first playoff game since 2013 tonight

VALLEY — For the first time in six years, the Valley Rams (6-4, 5-1) are hosting a playoff game this Friday night against Vigor (4-6, 3-3).

“This is big for our kids, big for our school, big for the community,” Valley head football coach Buster Daniel said. “I’m excited to see our guys play again, especially in front of the home crowd in our first playoff game. I’m excited.”

This past week in practice, Daniel said the team focused on getting better. In last week’s loss at Benjamin Russell, the Rams were missing sophomore quarterback KD Hutchinson and junior wide receiver Quez Trammell, who were both ruled out due to concussion protocol. Both players are expected to play on Friday.

Following the conclusion of Thursday afternoon’s practice, the Rams went up to the school’s cafeteria to receive their new Valley 5A Region 2 champion sweatshirts. 

“You can start to see all the chatter bouncing around,” Daniel said. “There’s just a different atmosphere around here around the normal kids in school because we’re region champions and we’re hosting a playoff game. You can feel the excitement.”

One of the few plot twists that Valley showed this season was lining up senior defensive end Jaden Hamlin at tight end for certain packages. The move has paid off, as Hamlin proved to be another reliable big target for the Rams, particularly when the offense nears the red zone.

“He was used primarily in the heavy package, but we have a little trick up our sleeve this week where he’s lined up as a regular tight end in the regular offense. He’s going to get more in our offense as we go.”

Each of Daniel’s three teams at Valley has seen a jump in his tenure at his alma mater. The Rams finished 2-8 in 2017, finished the 2018 regular season 5-5 and qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and now the team won its first region championship since 2011.

“I saw our kids grow,” Daniel said of the 2019 regular season. “We’re an extremely young team, we have seven seniors. Their leadership has been great, but I’ve seen our team grow together as brothers and they work together really well.”

Another plot twist from the Rams this season was Hutchinson making the early-season switch from wide receiver to quarterback. The position change made Hutchinson and sophomore running back B.J. Baker one of the more dangerous backfield duos in the area.

“They’re great together,” Daniel said. “They’ve grown together over the last five, six games and I’m looking forward to big things out of both of them [Friday] night.”

The Rams’ senior corps is led by linemen Daniel Osborne and Hamlin.

“Jaden’s played great all year,” Daniel said. “[Osborne]’s played great on both sides of the ball. He’s one of our leaders on the offensive line. We have four seniors that we have to replace on the offensive line. I’m not looking forward to that, but we’re going to finish out this year. Those guys play well. I say all the time that we have great running backs, great quarterbacks, but they’re no good without the offensive line. Those guys have played well, Daniel and Judson [Gardner], Kenyion Barnes and Conner Hamby. This is Conner’s first year of starting and center and he’s done a great job.”

Daniel said the keys to winning on Friday night are taking care of and being able to run the football.

“We had 79 yards of total offense against Benjamin Russell, that’s uncharacteristic of us,” he said. “If we run the football well and control the ball, we should be fine with our defense continuing to play the way that they’re playing.”