Valdosta Daily Times

October 12, 2012

Vikings treating clash with Wildcats as a ‘normal game’

Ed Hooper
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — One of the most unique rivalries in high school football gets renewed tonight when the Lowndes Vikings visit the Valdosta Wildcats in the 2012 Winnersville Classic.

The Vikings (6-0, 2-0 in Region 1-6A) will put their undefeated record on the line by visiting the Wildcats (3-2, 0-1 in Region 1-6A), who are desperate for a win following a blowout loss to Camden County two weeks ago.

Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. from Valdosta’s Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. The game is sold out.

To prepare for the annual clash with the ’Cats, the Vikings kept to their normal practice schedule and are attempting to treat this game as a normal week.

“Everybody is excited,” Lowndes head coach Randy McPherson said. “Everybody is excited, and has a little more fire and focus.”

This week is anything but normal. This is the Winnersville Classic, where the game was sold out by lunch time on Wednesday and where fans call in sick from work just to tailgate the entire day.

With all 11,500 seats in Valdosta’s Bazemore-Hyder Stadium filled for tonight’s game, the crowd noise will be the loudest the Vikings will face, home or away, all season. To help prepare for the crowd noise, which includes two bands, the Lowndes coaches tried to get the players accustomed to playing with noise during practice this week.

“We practiced with some loud noise (on Tuesday) and we did OK with it,” McPherson said. “I think we’re ready.

“We’ve been practicing well, practicing fast and turning the heat up.”

Following classes today, the Vikings will go through their normal game day routine for road games, with the exception of having a much shorter road trip for this game. Lowndes will have to load its buses and travel just 3.3 miles to the away stadium in town.

The players will be fed at the Lowndes field house on campus, and will have ample time to rest and watch movies, have a final walk-through as a team and hold meetings with coaches before getting dressed and heading to the stadium.

On the field, the Vikings will keep everything normal and will not alter their pre-game warmup schedule.

“We treat it like a normal game,” McPherson said.

If the Vikings needed more motivation to get up for a football game against their rival, the finish to last year’s Winnersville Classic will provide that extra motivation. Trailing 17-7 with 1:14 remaining, the Wildcats scored 14-unanswered points to beat the Vikings, ending their 7-year losing streak to Lowndes.

The loss is something the Vikings haven’t forgotten about.

“That (finish) has come up,” McPherson said on Monday.

With both schools being located inside the city of Valdosta, the amount of players that know one another is high. With so much crossover, several players took to Twitter during the week for pre-game trash talk.

McPherson did not ban his team from Twitter or other social media Web sites, saying he tries to stay “out of that kind of stuff.”

Two heavy topics on Twitter were last year’s finish at Martin Stadium and Lowndes quarterback Alex Stephenson, who transferred from Valdosta to Lowndes following the completion of the 2011 football season.

“I haven’t heard anything about a tweet,” said McPherson downplaying the role of social media.

As for Stephenson, he will start at quarterback for the Vikings. On the year, he has completed 15 of 26 passes for 191 yards, with two touchdowns. He will split time with junior Seth Carlo, who has completed 11 of 24 passes for 135 yards.

The strength of Lowndes’ offense is the running game. The Vikings are averaging 285.2 yards rushing per contest.

The Wildcats allowed 283 yards on the ground to Camden County two weeks ago, which could give the Vikings hope that they can run the football.

Offensively, the Valdosta offense is led by quarterback Shelby Wilkes, who threw two touchdown passes in the final minute of last year’s game to beat the Vikings. Wilkes has struggled at times this season, completing 57 percent of his passes for 713 yards, with four touchdowns and four interceptions.

In the loss to Camden County two weeks ago (the Wildcats were idle last week), Wilkes was intercepted two times, both by superstar J.J. Green.

At running back, seniors Malcolm Joseph and Nelson Herring provide the Wildcats with a dual threat in the backfield. The duo has combined for 892 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns this season. The duo has also combined for 267 receiving yards and three receiving scores.

Luckily, the Vikings have excelled on the defensive front this season. Under the direction of defensive coordinator Taz Dixon, who was on staff at Valdosta in 2010 and 2011, the Vikings have three shut outs this season and are allowing just 7.5 points per game.

Valdosta was held to just six points in the loss to Camden County.

Tonight’s game will not be carried on television, unlike three of the previous four Winnersville Classics. The game will be carried on the radio. Lowndes’ broadcast will be carried live on 99.5 FM and Valdosta’s can be heard on 95.7 FM. Fans can follow @Ed_Hooper on Twitter for play-by-play updates of tonight’s game.