VALDOSTA — ‘Cats lose a heartbreaker
By Samuel D. Logan
The Valdosta Daily Times
VALDOSTA— The Valdosta High Wildcats entered the annual Winnersville Classic the favorites to win, but were defeated 0-3 by their in- town rival, the Lowndes Vikings.
The 3-0 loss marks the lowest scoring Winnersville Classic in the history of the game.
The game was nothing short of a defensive battle on both sides. The Vikings scored a field goal on their second drive of the game after defensive tackle Darrius Sapp got a huge sack on third down.
The Wildcats managed to gain 219 yards of total offense, gaining 171 of them through the air.
Sophomore quarterback Seth Shuman was 21-30 for 171 yards but was sacked four times and threw no touchdowns.
“The kid showed an amazing amount of gut. He did not practice Tuesday and Thursday due to being sick;we had to give him an IV yesterday. He went out there and got the ball to the right guys and still had a really nice game,” said Wildcats Head Coach Rance Gillespie.
The offense was plagued by penalties, losing 80 yards to them. Lowndes was only penalized for 25 yards in the game.
Senior running back Nelson Herring rushed for 51 yards and Malcolm Joseph managed 9 yards on the ground in the loss.
“We have got to play better fundamental football. Offensively, I won’t throw a particular group out there, but we have to get better at the basics,” said Gillespie.
The offense was able to get into field goal range three times in the game, however, junior kicker Brennan Goodson missed twice on 45 and 48 yard attempts and had a 22 yard kick blocked early in the 3rd quarter.
Senior receiver Alex Cason had a break out game, catching the ball for a season high 135 yards.
The offense was forced to punt seven times, with senior Mac Loudermilk handling those duties.
The Wildcats had numerous opportunities to pull out a win but could not execute and score.
In the first half, Nelson Herring broke free for a nice six yard gain. On the same drive, Shuman completed a screen pass to Cason for a 35 yard gain. After a long run by Joseph was called back by a penalty, the ‘Cats missed a chance to score after a missed field goal.
Another missed opportunity came after the defense forced a 3 and out early in the 3rd quarter.
The Wildcats got the ball in good field position and gained a first down on a Nelson Herring run. Shuman found Cason on a 45 yard reception to get the ‘Cats on the Vikings 10 yard line. After three runs of minimal gain, the ‘Cats attempted a short field goal that was blocked by a Vikings defender.
The referee corps had a few issues throughout the night, but none more prevalent than before the close of the 2nd quarter. After the Wildcats lined up for a field goal with 3.8 second left in the game, the referees paused the game for about 5 minutes while waiting on the time clock operator to fix the time to 3.5 seconds left in the half.
“I thought they were fair. There will always be a few calls that are questionable but overall they were a good group,” said Gillespie.
This has been the same referee group that has called the Winnersville Classic for the past three outings, said Gillespie.
On defense, the Wildcats played a phenomenal game. Only allowing 94 total yards of offense, the ‘Cats defense did not allow the Vikings to earn a first down after the nine minute mark in the second quarter. The defense allowed 6 first downs, 5 of them coming on Lowndes’ only scoring drive in the first quarter.
“They gave up one drive but outside of that our defense played well,” said Gillespie.
Senior defensive end Adrian Scott was a monster in the backfield, sacking Lowndes quarterback Austin Dixon three times, once for a 20 yard loss.
Junior Joshua Norwood was able to intercept Dixon in the game, but the ‘Cats offense could not take advantage, going three and out on the ensuing possession. Norwood also had a number of pass breakups, including a pivotal one on the Vikings first drive on a 3rd down. Norwood made an impact in the 4th quarter by blocking the Vikings quarterback from seeing the play calls from the coach but waving his hands up and down for three plays in a row. This caused an uproar amongst Vikings fans but it's not illegal.
Junior Terrell Roundtree also had a big game, making third down tackles for loss on two back to back defensive series.
To close the game, the Wildcats had the ball twice within the last five minutes but could not get on the scoreboard. With 2:20 seconds left in the game, Coach Gillespie called a timeout after allowing the clock to run with his offense on the field lined up to attempt a 4th and 29.
The Wildcats got the ball back with 1:19 seconds left in the game and completed 2 passes to get a first down with 19 seconds left. Shuman’s last throw to Cason was for 8 yards to move the ‘Cats in field goal range but Cason could not get out of bounds and the Wildcats were out of timeouts. The clock then hit zero and the Vikings were crowned the Winnersville Champions for the second year in a row. The Vikings move to 4-2 as the Wildcats drop to the same 4-2.
“We’ve lost two heartbreakers in the region that went right down to the wire. Our kids laid it out on the line. We just have to rebound and go to work next week. ‘Cause if we don’t it will be a long season in this region,” said Gillespie.
The Wildcats will have all week to prepare for their next region game against the Tift County Blue Devils on Oct. 18 on Cleveland Field at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium at 8 p.m.