The Valdosta Daily Times
In its last four football games, the Valdosta Wildcats’ offense has been hard to stop.
Valdosta (7-3) has scored at least 38 points in each of its last four games, and has scored more than 40 points in three of those games.
“Each year, you see your team, as a whole, peak and come together. (They) start playing to their full potential. It seems like we’re starting to do that,” Valdosta head coach Rance Gillespie said.
Earlier this season, VHS managed just six and 14 points, respectively, in back-to-back losses to Camden County and Lowndes — two of the top teams in the state. But since then, Valdosta’s offense has excelled.
The Wildcats scored 35 points in the first half against Tift County, en route to a 42-7 victory. Next, they scored 38 points in the first two and a half quarters in an important Region 1-6A win over Colquitt County. Then they went to Brunswick and scored 31 points in the second half to pull away for a 41-24 victory. Last week, needing to beat Coffee to get into the playoffs, the Wildcats scored five first half touchdowns, built a commanding 34-0 halftime lead and cruised to a 44-8 victory over the Trojans.
Gillespie says Valdosta is not doing anything different on offense. They’re just doing the same things better.
“(Our offense is) just playing together, getting some (experience) under our belt, gaining some confidence, making some plays and the pieces (are) coming together,” Gillespie said.
After Gillespie became Valdosta’s head coach in 2010, he said that his West Coast offense would be flexible enough to work with whatever personnel the Wildcats had each year. So far, it has been.
In 2010, Valdosta had a potent passing game, with one of the top receivers in the country (Malcolm Mitchell), one of the top tight ends (Jay Rome) and a quarterback that passed for 3,000 yards (Ryan Whilden). This year, Valdosta’s strength on offense is its running game. Nelson Herring has rushed for 931 yards and nine touchdowns, and averages 7.8 yards per carry, while Malcolm Joseph has run for 806 yards and 14 touchdowns, and averages 5.8 yards per carry. Valdosta’s coach really likes the two backs.
“I do (like them). If we play long enough, hopefully both of them will reach (1,000 yards),” Gillespie said.
Valdosta’s offensive line is a big reason why Herring and Joseph have been able to run the ball so well. Left tackle Dyshon Sims, left guard Anthony Evans, center Jamel Hunter, right guard Quincy Jones and right tackle Ronnie Stoney have opened up holes for the running backs all year long, and have also protected the quarterback well.
“Any time you have two backs put up those kinds of numbers, then obviously you’ve got guys in front of them that are opening some holes,” Gillespie said. “That line of scrimmage has played especially well. They really have. Mark (Loudermilk, the offensive line coach) has done a good job developing those guys. ... This year, they’ve just kind of paved the way for us.”
Valdosta hasn’t had to throw the ball as much this year. But when the Wildcats have thrown it, senior quarterback Shelby Wilkes has been effective, completing 60 percent of his passes. Wilkes has thrown for 1,473 yards and 14 touchdowns, and has five touchdown passes in the last two weeks.
Wilkes has spread his passes around to several different receivers. None of the Wildcats have more than 25 receptions, 296 yards receiving or four touchdown catches, but 12 different players have caught at least one pass, five players have at least 179 yards receiving and six different players have caught at least one touchdown pass.
Gillespie said he feels the Wildcats’ passing game is at its most effective when the quarterback can spread the ball around to a number of receivers.
The past two games, tight end Taijuan Smith has been one of Wilkes’ favorite targets. Smith only caught four passes in Valdosta’s first eight games, but in the last two games, he has caught five passes for 153 yards. Four of those five catches went for touchdowns. Wide receiver Sherrod Inman caught seven passes against Colquitt County (for 50 yards and a touchdown), while fellow receiver Alex Cason had a big game against Tift County (two catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns). Joseph and Herring have been reliable receivers out of the backfield for most of the season, combining for 36 catches for 410 yards and five touchdowns.
Valdosta’s offense will try to continue its scoring prowess in the playoffs. The Wildcats travel to North Cobb (8-2) this Friday for their first round playoff game.
The Valdosta Touchdown Club has rented a bus to take fans to Friday night’s game at North Cobb. Tickets are $50 per seat, and can be purchased at the Valdosta Ticket Office, which is located inside the Valdosta City Schools’ Central Offices on Williams Street. The price does not include a ticket to the game; those tickets can be purchased at the gate on Friday.