Last week, Valdosta faced a football team from another state. This week, the Wildcats play a team from just down the road.
Tonight, the Brooks County Trojans will make the short drive east on U.S. 84 to Valdosta to battle the Wildcats. The game will kick off at 8 p.m. at Cleveland Field at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.
Valdosta is 1-0 and ranked No. 8 in Class 6A. Last Saturday, the Wildcats started their season with a 28-7 win over North Augusta (S.C.).
“They’re pretty good. It looks like they’ve reloaded,” Brooks County head coach Maurice Freeman said. “It’s going to be a tough game.”
Brooks is 2-0 and ranked No. 3 in Class AA. Last week, the Trojans scored a touchdown in the final seconds to beat Monroe 21-18.
“They are a good South Georgia brand football team,” Valdosta head coach Rance Gillespie said. “What I mean by that is they’re fast, they play hard and they play physical football.”
This is the third year in a row that Brooks has come to Bazemore-Hyder to face Valdosta. Freeman likes playing the Wildcats, for the challenge and the learning experience they give his team.
“We try to play people that are traditionally rich in their football program,” Freeman said. “It shows that Brooks County, a small, little AA school — we’re probably about 30 kids from being a single-A school — it shows that we play hard-nosed football and we try to hang with the big boys.”
A year ago, Brooks County held its own against Valdosta. The Trojans led the game 5-0 at halftime, and their defense shut out the Wildcats for the first 35 minutes of the game. But then Valdosta scored three touchdowns in the final 13 minutes of the game, and rallied for a 20-11 win.
“We gave them a good fight. We gave them a scare,” Freeman recalled. “But in the end, they came out on top. We had a great time. We played hard, we played the best we could. And I think we’ll do the same thing this year. We’ll get over there, we’ll play the best we can. And when we leave out of that stadium, we’ll have no regrets. We’re going to play as hard as we can play, and let the chips fall where they may.”
Freeman’s teams have traditionally run an option offense out of the I formation, but this year, the Trojans have switched to the spread. Reason No. 1 is Malcolm Parrish, one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the state. Parrish has 404 passing yards and 216 rushing yards in two games. Reason No. 2 is a fleet of fast wide receivers.
“Offensively, they’re different than they have been in the past,” Gillespie said. “The Parrish kid is starting to come into his own. He’s been a great player since he was in ninth grade. (He’s got) two years of experience as a quarterback. Now he’s entering his third year, and he’s off to a great start and they’re giving him more and more of that offense. So they are a little bit different. They’re throwing the ball a little bit more. And he’s certainly got some weapons to throw it to at wide receiver. ... They’re very dangerous on that side with their speed and their athleticism.”
Brooks uses an aggressive 4-4 base defense.
“Defensively, they’re basically doing the same things they have been,” Gillespie said. “It’s high pressure and get after you, and play a physical brand of defense. And they do it well. And it’s all predicated on speed. And they play fast.”
Gillespie is impressed with several Brooks players.
“The Parrish kid, obviously, is one of (their best players),” he said. “They’ve got a defensive end (Jicarrie Watkins) that’s a good player. They’ve got a linebacker/ running back (Brandon Golden) that’s at least a two-year starter for them. (Deric) Herring that plays corner (is real good). (Atta Jenkins and Dejuan Miley) are good players. They’ve got (talented players) scattered throughout.”
Valdosta has run a West Coast offense with a zone blocking scheme ever since Gillespie arrived in 2010. While Gillespie’s teams have been better known for throwing the ball, last week, it was the ground game that did most of the damage, piling up 306 rushing yards. Nelson Herring (140 yards, one touchdown) and Malcolm Joseph (135 yards, 2 TDs) both had big games carrying the ball.
“Those running backs are very challenging,” Freeman said. “No. 1 (Joseph) is a hard-running inside-outside guy. No. 13 (Herring) is as fast as they come. The quarterback (Shelby Wilkes) throws well to No. 11 (Alex Cason) and No. 7 (Sherrod Inman). He throws the out and the deep ball real well. (They’ve got) a huge offensive line. I’m very impressed with them; a lot of size. They block well, they’ve got a good scheme.”
Valdosta and Brooks County have met six times since 1995. Each time, Freeman was the Trojans’ head coach. Valdosta also played Quitman High School 12 times between 1919 and 1932, many years before it became Brooks County High School. Valdosta, with considerably more players, has won all 18 games.
What will it take to win tonight’s game?
“We’ve got to come out ready to play, because they’re going to be fired up,” Gillespie said. “We’ve got to come out ready to play from the (time) the ball’s kicked. We’ve got to eliminate mistakes, and with it being early in the year, that’s still a concern. No turnovers. We’ve got to be able to match their speed offensively and their athleticism on the perimeter. For us, offensively, we’ve got to handle all the different stuff they will throw at us, all the different pressures and blitzes.”
“We’ve got to play perfect,” Freeman said. “We’ve got to grade out at every position at about 90-95 percent. We just can’t make the big mistakes. We can’t make any mistakes on special teams. We cannot give up the big play. We’ve got to use the clock. We’ve got to manage the clock well on offense and defense. We’ve got to force turnovers. And we’ve got to make three or four big plays that lead to touchdowns. Somehow we’ve got to find a way to earn easy touchdowns.”
Tonight will be Military Appreciation Night. All military personnel, active and retired, will receive free admission to the game, including spouse/guest and dependent children.