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VALDOSTA — The day all Lowndes Vikings players, coaches and fans have waited for has finally arrived.
Lowndes, ranked No. 2 in Class AAAAA by the Associated Press in Georgia, opens the season at 8 p.m. against the South Gwinnett Comets in Martin Stadium.
“It’s a great feeling,” Vikings quarterback Cole Parker said. “We’ve been hitting on each other for a long time. That scrimmage game, even though we treated it like a real game, it’s nice to have one that’s going to count to our record. We’re really looking forward to it. The whole team is ready to get after it.”
With most of the teams around the state opening the season next Friday, center stage belongs to the Vikings and the Comets, two teams that advanced to the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs last year.
“It is exciting,” Vikings head coach Randy McPherson said. “Our kids have worked hard. They’re ready to go. We’ll find out an awful lot about our team (tonight) for sure.”
This is the first-ever meeting between the two schools. Because of the new Region 1-AAAAA alignment, McPherson wanted to get a road trip to metro Atlanta for the 2010 and 2011 seasons. He said he spent three weeks calling teams nonstop to line up games. The Vikings worked out a home-and-home with South Gwinnett (Snellville) and McEachern (Powder Springs). Lowndes travels to McEachern on Sept. 3, and will go to South Gwinnett next season.
“We need that, a road (trip) to a good team,” McPherson said.
But tonight, the Vikings play in the comfort of Martin Stadium, where they haven’t lost since the first game of 2007.
That won’t guarantee a victory, though. The Comets have several Division I prospects, including quarterback Kent Rollins and two fast running backs in Aaron Wimberly and Trevon Walker.
“They’re just what we expected,” Parker said after watching the Comets on film. “They’re a great team. They got into the playoffs last year, and they’re expected to win their region. It’s definitely going to be a good matchup. It’s going to test us this early in the season. I’m looking forward to it.”
South Gwinnett is a spread team, but McPherson said the Comets are a run-first team. Last year, Rollins led all of Gwinnett County with 23 passing touchdowns, but he also rushed for 542 yards and eight touchdowns. Wimberly ran for 932 yards and nine touchdowns, while Walker carried the ball for 576 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Add in the fact that last year’s leading wide receiver, Jonathan Krause, is now at Vanderbilt, and the Comets could rely even more on the run.
Lowndes linebacker Chris Scurry said the Comets remind him of Colquitt County. He said if he had it his way, the Vikings would go on defense first. Last week against Thomas County Central, Lowndes won the coin toss and deferred to the second half.
The Yellow Jackets opened the game with a 41-yard run, and scored a few plays later. Scurry wants none of that this time around.
“We’re going to be a lot more ready for this,” Scurry said. “We have to come out the first drive and not be flat, not get whipped.”
The Comets’ defense is similar to the defense used by the Vikings. Lowndes uses a 5-2 alignment, with the two defensive ends also able to act as outside linebackers. The Comets are based in the 3-4. Parker and McPherson said going against the scout team in practice was like going against the normal Lowndes defense.
For the second straight week, the Vikings’ offense will be up against a Division I prospect. Last week, it was TCC defensive end Ray Drew, the No. 1 player in the state, who has 29 offers from major colleges. This week, it’s linebacker Edward Muldrow, a South Carolina commit.
“He looks good,” Parker said. “You can tell with the looks he’s gotten from colleges. He’s a good player, but we’re going to try to do our thing on offense, and not concentrate on him.”
The Vikings’ new-look offensive line had a wild day with Drew. He wasn’t heard from in the first quarter, but at the end of the second quarter, he chased Parker, was held several times and created a few false starts.
“That was great,” McPherson said. “We have a lot of respect for Ray. We’ve been together with Thomas County twice this summer working out in the passing game. If you’re a competitor, a true competitor, Ray Drew is the kind of player that you want to play across from.
“We blocked him some. Now, sometimes we didn’t. It was interesting.”
The last time the South Gwinnett defense played in a real game, it got ugly. Current Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason lit up the Comets for 70 points. Needless to say, South Gwinnett lost that playoff game to Lassiter.
When reminded of this, Parker grinned and said, “That’s impressive, but really you try not to worry about that. You just try to focus on what you’re going to do.”
McPherson said the key for the Vikings is to block.
“We’ve got to block them,” McPherson said. “They have a lot of speed on defense. I feel like if we can block them, we’ll make plays.”