The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valwood Valiants entered the 2011 football season with high expectations. Expectations which included claiming region and state championships.
Head coach Brannon Tidwell and the Valiants accomplished one of those goals, winning the schools first outright region championship in 21 years.
The task of claiming the outright region championship was something that not even Valwood’s 1999 state championship team could accomplish.
“First of all, it was just a great season,” Tidwell said. “Our kids worked really hard and we knew it was going to be a great season. But, it was the first time since 1990 that we won the region, and that was one of our goals that we set out to do before the season started. We thought that was something realistic that we could do.”
The Valiants posted a 10-2 record this season, managing to win the region championship and earn an appearance in the GISA Class AA state semifinals.
Valwood’s 2011 region championship marked a high point for the program that is fighting back from the back-to-back years of being the doormat in the GISA. The Valiants posted just a 3-6 record in 2008 and then a 1-9 record in 2009, Tidwell’s first season at the helm of the program. Then in 2010, Tidwell took the team into the playoffs, recording a 9-3 record and proving to the state that Valwood football was back on the right track.
“After the 1-9 year, I had to go do scheduling, and I could have filled up six schedules that day with people wanting to play us,” Tidwell said. “You know, people were writing on the internet in 2009 that we were the worst team in football, like out of the whole country. And to be where we are at now is just a testimony to our kids and the hard work that they put in.”
Despite the 10 wins on the season, Valwood’s region championship was hard earned. After blowing out Heritage 42-28 in their region opener, Valwood stumbled in their second region matchup, falling to Southwest Georgia Academy 20-17 in a game that was played at Goddard Field. The 17 points were a season-low for the Valiants, despite receiving 187 yards rushing by star running back Khary Paige.
“We were kind of coasting through the year and we had played that weren’t great early in the year,” Tidwell said. “The loss was something that woke us up.”
Following the loss to SGA, the Valiants re-focused and got back on the winning track with a 41-35 victory over John Milledge, as Paige rushed for 276 yards with four touchdowns in the win.
Following their victory over J. Milledge, the Valiants went back into region play, blowing a 14-point fourth quarter lead to Brookwood. The Valiants would overcome the score, using a 20-yard touchdown run by Rashad Mathis inside the final minute to secure the 35-28 victory.
A week later, the Valiants were wrapping up their regular season home schedule with a visit from Arlington Christian. After watching the Eagles jump up and down on their midfield logo, the Valiants handed out a 44-27 thrashing, improving their record to 8-1 on the season.
In their regular season finale, the Valiants made sure to finish in style, securing the region championship with a 43-18 victory at Flint River Academy. After the game, Tidwell was doused with a Gatorade bath to celebrate the victory.
“It meant a lot,” Tidwell said. “You dream of that as a coach, for that to happen. I don’t want anything to happen like that again until it is a state championship. But, it just means a lot to me and the kids just mean so much to me.”
Valwood’s final win of the 2011 season came in the first round of the state playoffs, using a large second half to defeat Gatewood 33-7. With the victory, Paige, who transferred to Valwood from Valdosta High School during the offseason, set the single-season touchdown record at Valwood, and he finished the year just shy of the 2,000 yard rushing mark on the season.
Unfortunately for Valwood, their magical season long run stopped in the state semifinals, falling to Edmund Burke 13-0. Looking towards next season, the Valiants will return four players that were named to the All-Region team following this season. Among those players are Khary Paige, Rashad Mathis Aulden Bynum and Griffin Clyatt.
Valwood will have to fill the void of seniors John Akins, Jake Reeves, Troy Woodward and Alex Waldron, all of whom were named to the All-Region team this season.