Special to the Times
On Saturday, the Region 3-AA Champion Valwood Valiants (12-1, 5-0 in region play) took the field with hopes of winning back-to-back state titles. Unfortunately, their plans were cut short after a 42-20 loss at the hands of Memorial Day Academy (Savannah, Ga.) in the GISA Class AA State Championship.
“(Memorial Day) came to play,” Head Coach Ashley Henderson said. “They prepared and they executed and they earned the win.”
From Anderson Field at Mercer University, the defending champions gave it their all, but the Matadors’ offensive attack was too much to overcome.Memorial Day’s offense was firing on all cylinders, led by an outstanding game from senior Marlin Latson. He registered three offensive touchdowns and 138 yards on 17 carries. He also recorded a defensive touchdown in the win.
The Matadors struck first, opening the game with 71-yard touchdown run by Latson on the second play from scrimmage.
Valwood was able to respond early in the second quarter with a six-yard run by senior receiver Kyle Wilkes. His trip to the end zone left the game tied at seven early in the second quarter.
Memorial Day wasted no time answering. With 2:36 remaining in the first half, Latson added to Memorial Day’s lead with a 26-yard touchdown run on a sweep down the right sideline. His touchdown sent the Valiants to the locker room at halftime down 14-7.
Although the Valiants found themselves down early, the Matadors’ score did nothing to dampen the spirits of the defending champions.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our team,” Valiant Defensive Coordinator Brad Alligood said. “Our guys showed outstanding character through it all.”
The second half brought more of the same offensive effort from Latson. Accompanying this effort was a statement game from Matadors’ senior receiver Deric Wright.
In their Week Three matchup, Wright left the game due to being injured on his first reception. After having virtually no impact on the previous meeting, Saturday’s contest was quite the opposite.
Late in the third quarter, Wright pulled down a 13-yard pass from senior quarterback Earl Washington in the left corner of the end zone. After a failed two-point conversion, the Matadors’ lead stood at 20-7.
Valwood was able to gain momentum, but Latson once again made his presence felt, this time defensively. With just under 1:30 remaining in the third quarter, he was able to intercept a Seth Carlo pass intended for senior Anthony Folkerts, returning it 20 yards for his third touchdown of the game. After a successful two-point conversion pass to Wright, Memorial Day’s lead stretched to 28-7 after three quarters.
He finished the game with 46 yards and one touchdown on four catches.
“(Latson and Wright) are two outstanding football players,” Coach Henderson said. “I tip my hat to them. They came to play.”
After fourth-quarter touchdown runs from Latson and Washington, Memorial Day held a 42-7 lead with 5:40 remaining in the game.
The Valiants tried to fight their way back into the game and were able to add to their comeback efforts with a three-yard touchdown run by senior Reggie Robinson.
Shortly after, a one-yard touchdown run by junior Marik Merine left the Valiants facing a 42-20 deficit, but with only 39 seconds remaining in regulation, the game was out of reach.
One knee from Washington was all that it took to end the game and give the Matadors the 2013 Class AA Championship.
Carlo finished the game completing 13 of 21 passing attempts for 140 yards. Junior running back Zane Edmondson totaled 68 yards on seven carries.
“I want our team to understand that they have nothing to hang their heads about,” Coach Henderson said. “There were many times throughout the game that we could have laid down and given up. Our players showed a great deal of class today…They’ve left a legacy that will last a lifetime.”
Valwood’s loss comes as the first under Coach Henderson. Under his leadership, the Valiants fought their way to a 26-game win streak, while also capturing the 2012 GISA Class AA State Championship as well as back-to-back region titles.