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SUPER 7 CLASS 4A STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS UMS-Wright 21, Fayette County 7

UMS-Wright 21, Fayette County 7
 
    
TUSCALOOSA – UMS-Wright posted three touchdowns in the first half as the Bulldogs beat Fayette County 21-7 to claim the AHSAA Super 7 Class 4A state football championship at Bryant-Denny Stadium Friday.
     Sophomore running back Symon Smith had 144 of his 200 yards in the first half, scoring on touchdown runs of 14 and 55 yards to spark the Bulldogs to a 21-0 lead by intermission. Will Chapman scored the other first-half TD on a 2-yard run. UMS-Wright’s defense also had its big moments too – stopping the Tigers on four downs inside the 10-yard line in the final minute of the second quarter.
    The championship was the sixth for UMS-Wright (13-2) during Coach Terry Curtis’ tenure and the seventh in school history.
         Fayette County (12-3) had the ball for just seven plays in the first quarter. The Tigers of Coach Lance Tucker opened the third period with a 10-play, 55-yard drive culminated with Chance Stevenson’s 4-yard run for the touchdown to cut the lead to 21-7. Stevenson, the Tigers’ quarterback, finished with 78 yards rushing on 21 carries and was 17-of-38 passing for 165 yards. Senior wide receiver Darius Nalls caught 11 passes for 108 yards. He finished his season with 78 receptions for 1,659 yards and 19 touchdowns.
    Will Chapman was 2-of-7 passing for seven yards for the Bulldogs.
     Fayette out-gained UMS-Wright 250 total yards to 229. The Bulldogs made four interceptions, however, with Trez Dixon swiping two for 50 yards in return yardage. Russ Myers and Conrad Inge had the other picks.  Dixon finished with eight tackles and Richard Brinson had six.  Leading the Tigers’ defense was Jamarious Jackson with eight tackles, Joe Koster, Colton Cooper and Tristan Nichols with seven each.
    The 2017 Super 7 State Championships continue today with two remaining finals: Lanett (14-0) versus Leroy (12-2) in the 2A championship at 3 p.m., and Wetumpka (13-1) facing Pinson Valley (14-0) in the 6A finals at 7 p.m.
     All games are being televised live by Raycom Media over its Raycom/AHSAA Network of affiliates and D-2 stations. The games are also being live video-streamed over the NFHS Network’s subscriber-based network and on You Tube. For more TV information, go to www.pathtotheplayoffs.com and click on “Where to Watch.”
    The AHSAA Radio Network is also broadcasting all games across the state. The link is available at www.ahsaa.com.

AHSAA Super 7 TV Update

The Super 7 football championship games at Bryant-Denny Stadium will be televised live today over Raycom Media’s network of affiliates. The games will be on their D.2 Bounce channels. In Mobile, WKRG TV 5’s D.3 channel will televise the games. Tonight’s 6A finals between Wetumpka and Pinson Valley is currently still planned to be shown live over WSFA TV 12’s main channel in Montgomery.

Raycom’s production is also being live video streamed over the NFHS Network’s subscriber platform and over YouTube. For up-to-date TV information and local cable channel options, go to www.pathtotheplayoffs.com and click on “Where to Watch.”

The AHSAA Radio Network is broadcasting all games live over its statewide radio network and over the internet. A link is provided at www.ahsaa.com

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AHSAA Super 7 Update

The Super 7 football championship games at Bryant-Denny Stadium will be played as originally scheduled.  The AHSAA looked at every option available. However, staffing, volunteers, police and other public safety will be unavailable due to prior commitments. The AHSAA continues to closely monitor all weather conditions. Any updates will be posted at www.ahsaa.com and on the AHSAA Twitter @AHSAAUpdates.

SUPER 7 CLASS 5A STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS St. Paul’s Episcopal 17, Briarwood Christian 14

St. Paul’s Episcopal 17, Briarwood Christian 14
 
    
TUSCALOOSA –  St. Paul’s Episcopal receiver Oliver Willman snagged a 6-yard pass from quarterback Swift Lyle on fourth-and-goal with 1:54 left in the fourth quarter to give the Saints (14-1) a 17-14 victory over previously unbeaten Briarwood Christian (14-1) in the Super 7 Class 5A state football championship game Thursday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium here.
    The Willman caught another 6-yard pass one play earlier with Coach Steve Mask’s Saints facing a third-and-10 from the Lions’ 12-yard line. The two pass receptions highlighted a last-ditch 10-play, 78-yard drive that delivered St. Paul’s its third state championship in the last four years and fourth state title overall.
    St. Paul’s scored first with a 20-yard field goal by Wilson Beaverstock in the first quarter to take a 3-0 lead. Hudson Hartsfield, who finished with five catches for 78 yards, put Coach Fred Yancey’s Lions on top 7-3 with a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Michael Hiers midway through the second quarter. Hiers and Hartsfield hooked up again at 1:07 left in the third period on a 12-yard touchdown connection as the Lions built a 14-3 lead.
    The Saints answered that score quickly when Jarrett Eaton hauled in a 57-yard touchdown pass from Lyle just 51 seconds later. The extra-point try failed, however, and Briarwood clinged to a 14-9 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
    Briarwood dominated most of the fourth quarter driving to the St. Paul’s 22-yard line with just over four minutes to play. Facing a fourth-and-3, the Lions faked a field-goal try but the pass fell incomplete.
    The Saints took then began their final march of the season – driving to the winning touchdown in big part thanks to a 56-yard pass from Lyle to Jalyn Armour-Davis on fourth-and-14 to the Lions 10-yard line with time running out.
     Lyle finished 14-of-22 for 236 yards and two touchdowns to earn MVP honors for the Saints.  He also rushed for 33 yards on four carries. Eaton had three catches for 74 yards, Armour-Davis had three catches for 55 yards and Willman had three for 29 yards. Jordan Ingram rushed for 44 yards on 16 carries and had two receptions for another 49 yards.
     Hiers finished 8-of-18 for Briarwood for 113 yard passing. Luke Prewett had nine rush attempts for 52 yards and J.R. Tran-Reno had 33 yards on four tries.
     Daniel Beard had 12 tackles and Gordon Mathers had 10 to pace the St. Paul’s defense. Gabriel Russell had nine stops and Mark Hand had seven for Briarwood.
    The 2017 Super 7 State Championships conclude Friday with three games: UMS-Wright (12-2) meeting Fayette County (12-2) at 11 a.m., in the 4A championship, Lanett (14-0) versus Leroy (12-2) in the 2A finals at 3 p.m., and Wetumpka (13-1) facing Pinson Valley (14-0) in the 6A finals at 7 p.m. All games are being televised live by Raycom Media over its Raycom/AHSAA Network of affiliates and D-2 stations. The games are also being live video-streamed over the NFHS Network’s subscriber-based network and on You Tube. For more TV information, go to www.pathtotheplayoffs.com and click on “Where to Watch.”
    The AHSAA Radio Network is also broadcasting all games across the state. The link is available at www.ahsaa.com.


SUPER 7 CLASS 1A STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS Sweet Water 20, Pickens County 6

Sweet Water 20, Pickens County 6
 
    
TUSCALOOSA – Sweet Water High School senior Shamar Lewis scooped up  a fumble and raced 64 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter Thursday to seal the Bulldogs’ 20-6 victory over Pickens County in the AHSAA Super 7 Class 1A state football finals at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
    Lewis, had four tackles including one for a six-yard loss on defense, made an interception in the final minute and also rushed for a 95 yards on 16 carries to earn MVP honors for Coach Pat Thompson’s Bulldogs.
     Sweet Water (13-1) won its 10th state championship overall and its first since 2010. Thompson served as assistant coach on two state championship teams and now has his first as the head coach.
  Pickens County (12-3), coached by James Thompson, took the early lead 3-0 with 5:40 left in the second quarter when Jermaine Hill booted a 26-yard field goal to cap a 10-play, 66-yard march. Sweet Water drove 60 yards on 10 plays on the ensuing drive with Jacory Brown scoring on a 2-yard run at the two-minute mark of the period and Devonte Blanks kicked the extra point to give the Bulldogs a 7-3 lead at intermission.
     The Bulldogs took the opening drive of the third quarter and drove 68 yards in 11 plays to extend the lead to 14-3 when Jaylon Williamson scored on a 3-yard run. The Tornadoes cut the lead to 14-6 three minutes later when Hill kicked his second field goal, a 28-yarder. His two field goals set a new Super 7 Class 1A state record.  Lewis took over in the fourth quarter, however. Pickens County quarterback Aljaron Edwards was forced out of the pocket by Jacory Brown midway through the fourth quarter and lost control of the ball as he was thrown to the turf. Lewis was there to pick it up and raced to the end zone for the clinching score.
     Sweet Water totaled 283 yards rushing on 56 carries and completed one pass for 50 yards – a grab by Trenton Sams from quarterback Jonah Lewis that came on a third-and-27 play from the Bulldogs 25 that kept the third-quarter scoring drive alive. Pickens County passed for 233 yards but netted only 22 rushing.
    Brown had a game-high 103 yards rushing on 25 carries for the Bulldogs, and Williamson had 95 on 12 rush attempts.   
    Edwards was 17-of-26 passing for the Tornadoes for 174 yards and Clifford Morton was 3-of-5 for 59 yards.  Elliott Petty had nine catches for 109 yards and Malik Betts had six for 70 yards.
    Jah’Dairius McIntosh led the Sweet Water defense with 10 tackles and one sack. Smith had seven tackles plus and interception and Willie Lewis had six.   Jah-Marien Latham and Rikishi Cohen had 10 tackles each for Pickens County.
    The Super 7 State Championships continue tonight with the Class 5A championship game between St. Paul’s Episcopal (13-1) and Briarwood Christian (14-0) at 7 p.m. All games are being televised live by Raycom Media over its Raycom/AHSAA Network of affiliates and D-2 stations. The games are also being live video-streamed over the NFHS Network’s subscriber-based network and on You Tube. For more TV information, go to www.pathtotheplayoffs.com and click on “Where to Watch.”
   The Super 7 closes out Friday with three games: UMS-Wright (12-2) meeting Fayette County (12-2) at 11 a.m., in the 4A championship, Lanett (14-0) versus Leroy (12-2) in the 2A finals at 3 p.m., and Wetumpka (13-1) facing Pinson Valley (14-0) in the 6A finals at 7 p.m.
    The AHSAA Radio Network is also broadcasting all games across the state. The link is available at www.ahsaa.com.

SUPER 7 CLASS 3A STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS Hillcrest-Evergreen 26, Randolph County 14

    TUSCALOOSA -- Hillcrest-Evergreen  blanked Randolph County in the second half to capture a 26-16 come-from-behind victory in the AHSAA 2017 Super 7 Class 3A state championship game Thursday at the University of Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium.
   The state title was the first in Hillcrest football history.
   Randolph County (13-2), coached by Pat Prestridge,  marched 67 yards on 11 plays to take the lead in the first quarter when Aaron Knight scored on a 5-yard run.  Jordan Heard booted the extra point and the Tigers led 7-0. Hillcrest (14-1) scored six plays later on a 7-yard pass from junior quarterback Ryan Nettles to Kobe Bradley. A try for two points failed and the Jaguars trailed 7-6. The Tigers tacked on a 49-yard TD pass from Brody Wortham to Tre’ Terrell in the second quarter and Hillcrest responded with a 66-yard TD connection from Nettles to Brandon Rudolph, but the Jags still trailed at the half 14-13.
    Nettles, who completed 15-of-24 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns, directed two more scoring drives in the second half with running back Andray  Pope scoring on a 2-yard run and a dazzling 71-yard run, and the Hillcrest defense did the rest.
    Smith’s Jaguars finished with 16 first downs, 154 yards rushing and 226 passing for 380 yards. Randolph County had 100 yards rushing and 187 passing for 287 yards. Pope finished with a game-high 108 yards rushing on 12 carries and Tyson Nicholson added 43 on 11 carries for Hillcrest. Nettles connected with Joshua Jackson five times for 49 yards and Bradley had four catches for 59 yards. Rudolph also finished with three receptions for 91 yards.
    Wortham was 6-of-16 passing for 187 yards for the Tigers. Knight had 100 yards rushing on 22 carries and caught three passes for 86 yards. Trenton Lane added 27 rushing yards on seven carries.
    Cortez Betts led the Hillcrest defense with nine tackles. Desmond Mitchell added eight stops and Cameron Riley had seven, including two sacks for 28 yards in losses. Riley also had an interception.
    Pacing the Tigers’ defense was E.J. Clark with 10 tackles Andrew Prestridge and Jai Wright, eight each, and Richard Bledsoe with six. Bledsoe also had a sack resulting in a 10-yard loss.
    The Super 7 State Championships continue today with Sweet Water (12-1) facing Pickens County (12-2) in the Class 1A finals at Bryant-Denny Stadium at 3 p.m., and the Class 5A championship game between St. Paul’s Episcopal (13-1) and Briarwood Christian (14-0) at 7 p.m. All games are being televised live by Raycom Media over its Raycom/AHSAA Network of affiliates and D-2 stations. The games are also being live video-streamed over the NFHS Network’s subscriber-based network and on You Tube. For more TV information, go to www.pathtotheplayoffs.com and click on “Where to Watch.”
   The Super 7 closes out Friday with three games: UMS-Wright (12-2) meeting Fayette County (12-2) at 11 a.m., in the 4A championship, Lanett (14-0) versus Leroy (12-2) in the 2A finals at 3 p.m., and Wetumpka (13-1) facing Pinson Valley (14-0) in the 6A finals at 7 p.m.

A search for 'Alabama values' in the heart of the state

There is no easy way into the heart of Alabama.

It's not near Birmingham. Not even close. It's not near Huntsville, or Mobile, or Montgomery or even Nick Saban's Tuscaloosa. It's not near anything, really, except for an old cotton gin, and a few paper mills.

The heart of Alabama is Sweet Water High School, and it's down a small country road in Marengo County, and then an even smaller country road, and then a piece of road so small and so familiar to the people who travel it, they know exactly where the lazy dogs will be resting every day as they drive by. Down that road, in southwest Alabama, is the heart of this state, and you can't begin to understand it unless you go there.

When it comes to finding Sweet Water, or a place like it, when it comes to searching for the heart of Alabama, the Internet is a useless tool. It will only get you more lost if you try to use it. Indeed, Sweet Water is so small it's not on Google Maps.

But it's there, just like it has always been -- town population: 246.

There is a blinking yellow light in Sweet Water, but the logging trucks don't slow down for it. Small clouds of ditch cotton rise up and dance down main street as they drive past. The local cotton gin has been in operation since 1840. This has been a big year for Alabama cotton, so they might be ginning in Sweet Water until February.

A lot of people have been questioning the heart of Alabama these days, and wondering what it is, and knowing what it is not, so I went for a visit. If there are such things as "Alabama values," Sweet Water High School is where they teach them.

"If this country ran like this school does, we wouldn't have any problems," said Sweet Water principal Phyllis Mabowitz. "We are a picture of our community, and the population here in this part of the state."

I spoke with teachers, coaches and students, the librarian and the mayor, the guys working the cotton gin and the woman who cooks the butterbeans and collard greens at the local diner. Sweet Water is timber country, and 11 tiny communities feed the school. Anyone in the county can attend, but Sweet Water also takes people from outside Marengo County if there's room.

On the eve of Sweet Water's proudest moment in years -- an appearance in the Class 1A state football championship game on Thursday -- I went and spent the day. It is a special place, and easy to love. The people of Sweet Water and Marengo County are proud of their K-12 school, which excels in both academics and athletics. They call it the "treasure in the forest." It truly is.

Sweet Water might be the best little school in Alabama.

"This is a family," said librarian Patricia Jones. "You don't meet a stranger when you come here. The people are just down home."

Jones says she has the best job in the school. She gets to "roll around on the ground" and read to kindergarteners in the morning, and then helps seniors with their literature and research papers in the afternoon.

"Because we are such a small school, we get to influence the kids all the way from preschool to when they graduate from high school," Jones said. "And the big kids get to influence the little kids."

On Tuesday, the library was transformed into a banquet hall for Sweet Water's annual senior luncheon. Jones bragged that 11 of her upperclassmen scored above a 30 on the ACT. For a school with a senior class of 42 in rural Alabama, that's a remarkable number. The next day, a researcher from the University of Missouri visited the school for an ongoing project, and told the Mabowitz, the principal, "I need to come here more often. I sometimes lose hope that there are places still like this in education."

Sweet Water is one of 12 remaining K-12 schools in the state. It is 61 percent white and 37 percent black. Almost 70 percent of those who attend receive free or reduced lunches. Some of the bus routes are over 90-minutes long. Much like the rest of Alabama, Sweet Water is a place shaped by its past, but looking to the future.

"Our parents don't have lots of resources, but the resource they have is work ethic," Mabowitz said. "They expect that from their children, and we see it in our classrooms, and we see it on our playing fields."

In the heart of Alabama, there's a thing people value almost more than a nurturing classroom environment for their children. That thing is high school football. At Sweet Water, they play the game very well. Sweet Water has won eight state championships (1978, 1979, 1982, 1986, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010), and they'll try to make it nine at 3 p.m. on Thursday against Pickens County.

To reach the AHSAA's Super 7 at Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium, Sweet Water had to come from behind against defending state champion Maplesville, and last week's semifinal opponent, Wadley. The bus ride to Wadley took almost four hours, according to Sweet Water's star player, Shamar Lewis.

Lewis plays middle linebacker and running back for Sweet Water. Last week, he returned a fumble for a touchdown and assisted on a game-winning goal-line stand.

Before the football team left for Tuscaloosa and the state championship game, Lewis and his teammates walked through their school's hallway and high-fived the younger students. In Sweet Water's main building, the antique hardwood floors are polished to a dull shine from decades of lacquer and varnish. They creak and moan underfoot.

"We got caring people down here," Shamar said. "They all want to see you do good, and they're tough on you with your work because they want to see you do the best that you can. It's just good people to be around."

Sweet Water's football coach, Pat Thompson, grew up in the area. His father worked in the timber industry, but he was called to coaching. Like most everyone in Sweet Water, Thompson hunts and fishes and goes to church for fun. He was nice enough to entertain this reporter's questions before his team's big game. In the heart of Alabama, they are nothing if not accommodating.

What makes Sweet Water so special?

"The people," he said.

His inspirational motto for this year's team borrows a verse from the Bible, Hebrews 12:1. Finish strong, reads a quote on Thompson's cluttered wall ... "and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

The bible verse is tacked above another quote he values as a leader of young people. It's from the famous American psychiatrist, Karl Menninger: "What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches."

Joseph Goodman is a columnist for Alabama Media Group. He's on Twitter @JoeGoodmaJr.



SUPER 7 CLASS 7A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP Hoover 48, McGill-Toolen Catholic 20

Hoover 48, McGill-Toolen Catholic 20
TUSCALOOSA – Hoover High School posted 27 points in the second quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium Wednesday night en route  to a 48-20 victory McGill-Toolen Catholic (13-1) to claim the AHSAA Class 7A state championship for the third time in four seasons.
    Senior quarterback Jalen Parker completed 11-of-15 passes for 265 yards and four touchdowns to earn MVP honors as the Bucs (11-3) added state championship No. 13 to the Hoover trophy case. Coach Josh Niblett, who has coached the last six, said this year’s squad completed a feat in style, beating three straight undefeated teams in the playoffs to capture the 2017 crown.
Hoover took the lead midway through the first quarter when junior Larry McCammon scored on a 16-yard run. Barrett Pickering kicked the first of six extra points for a 7-0 lead. Coach Earnest Hill’s Yellow Jackets made it 7-3 with 31 seconds left in the quarter on Chase Mahler’s 28-yard field goal.
    Parker and star receivers Shedrick Jackson and George Pickens took over in the second quarter, however. Pickens hauled in a 7-yard pass from Parker early in the second period to put Hoover up 14-3. Mahler added his second field goal, a 24-yarder, with 4:24 remaining in the second period to close the gap to 14-6.
    The Bucs dominated the final four minutes of the half with Jackson hauling in TD passes of 70 and 16 yards and Pickens grabbing a 54-yard scoring connection. Vonte Brackett added a 4-yard scoring run as Hoover built a 34-6 lead by intermission.
    Jackson, who finished with six catches for 160 yards, snagged his second TD reception on a 16-yard pass late in the third period and Jacquez Allen scored on a 9-yard run with 9:31 left to play to make it 48-6.
    McGill-Toolen scored twice in the final 6:06 with Khalil Nettles racing 14 yards for a TD and Shelton Layman connecting with Turner McLaughlin for a 75-yard touchdown pass.
     Hoover finished with 26 first downs, 281 yards passing, 230 rushing and 511 total yards.
     Pickens finished with two catches for 61 yards and two scores. McCammon also had 106 yards rushing on 13 carries and Brackett had 59 on 10 attempts.  Noah Williams also had a 48-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter.
     Layman finished 20-of-32 passing for 210 yards and one TD for the Jackets, who totaled 326 yards and 18 first downs on the night. McLaughlin had four catches for 105 yards and Carlos Evans grabbed four receptions for 32 yards.
    Hoover’s defense was led Myles Spurling with nine tackles, Isaiah Hubbard and Greg Russell with eight each, Adrian Hill with seven and Devon Scott with six, including three for 24 yards in losses. McGill-Toolen’s Chris Hites had 13 tackles and Korian Wilson had 11 to lead the Jackets.
    The Bucs previous state titles came in 2016, 2014,  2013, 2012, 2009, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 1977 and a co-championship in 1982.  McGill-Toolen has reached the 7A finals three years in a row with a state crown in 2015 and runner-up finishes in 2016 and 2017.
    The Super 7 State Championships continue Thursday with Class 3A, 1A and 5A championships at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m., respectively. Randolph County (13-1) and Hillcrest-Evergreen kick off the action in the 3A finals.  All games will be televised lived over the Raycom Media Network of stations across the state. For details, go to www.pathtotheplayoffs.com. The NFHS Network will live-stream the Raycom production over its subscriber-based network, and the games will also be live-streamed on You Tube.

SUPER 7 UNIFIED GAME CHAMPIONSHIP Baldwin County 20, Vestavia Hills 6

    TUSCALOOSA – T.J. Caraway completed 16-of-26 passes for 121 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Baldwin County School System Unified football team to a 20-6 win over Vestavia Hills High School Wednesday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Unified game, which partners the AHSAA and Special Olympics Alabama, kicked off the 2017 AHSAA Super 7 State Football Championships.
     Jacob Bankster caught seven passes for 41 yards and a 15-yard touchdown for Coach Mike Connor. Bandits teammate Jared may had six catches for 44 yards and a 1-yard TD reception, and Chad Reno caught two passes, one covering 14 yards for the final Baldwin County TD. Reno also caught a pass for the conversion.
Smith finished 7-of-18 passing for 87 yards. Weyman Prater was the leading receiver with three catches and 28 yards.
    Leading Baldwin County on defense was May with six tackles and two interceptions. Prayter had eight for the Rebels, and Turner Parker had six. Baldwin County had three picks with Bankster getting the final one. Prater also had an interception for Vestavia.
      Vestavia Hills scored in the first half on a 35-yard pass from Thad Smith to Britton Rembert. The Rebels of Coach Terry Tingle trailed just 7-6 at the half. 
     The 62nd annual AHSAA football playoffs will feature seven finals with Hoover (10-3) facing McGill-Toolen Catholic (13-0) in the 7A finals Wednesday night. Thursday’s schedule kicks off with the 3A championship at 11 a.m. between Randolph County (13-1) and Hillcrest-Evergreen (13-1), followed by Sweet Water (12-1) and Pickens County (12-2) at 3 p.m., in the 1A  finals and Briarwood Christian (14-0) vs. St. Paul’s Episcopal (13-1) in the 5A finals at 7.
      The Super 7 Championships conclude Friday with UMS-Wright (12-2) facing Fayette County (12-2) in the 4A finals at 11 a.m.; Lanett (14-0) vs. Leroy (12-2) in the 2A championship at 3 p.m.; and Wetumpka (13-1) playing Pinson Valley (14-0) in the 6A title game at 7.