VALDOSTA — The Valdosta Wildcats will never forget this game.
The Wildcats scored two touchdowns in the final 48 seconds, and rallied to defeat crosstown rival Lowndes 21-17 Friday night in the Winnersville Classic at Martin Stadium.
Valdosta also ended a seven-game losing streak against the Vikings. It was the Wildcats’ first Winnersville Classic victory since 2003.
“This is a great moment for Wildcat nation,” wide receiver Avery Burney said.
“I am so proud of our kids,” Valdosta head coach Rance Gillespie said. “They just made the plays right there, and ended up winning the football game.”
Burney’s 35-yard touchdown catch with 17 seconds left in the game gave the Wildcats the win.
“I can’t even describe (how I’m feeling) right now,” Burney said. “This is bigger than anything I think I’ve ever done. I’m sure it’s the biggest game of my life.”
With 1:14 left in the game, Valdosta got the ball at its own 40-yard line trailing 17-7. On the first play, quarterback Shelby Wilkes threw a screen pass to running back Charlie Albritton. Albritton caught the ball, eluded some defenders, broke into the open field, got by another defender and ran all the way to the Lowndes 6. Two plays later, Wilkes found Sherrod Inman in the end zone for the touchdown, cutting Lowndes’ lead to 17-14.
Then Valdosta kicker Dale Kent executed a perfect onside kick, and Randy Cook came out of the pile with the ball, giving the Wildcats possession on the Lowndes 48. On second-and-15 from the Wildcat 47, Wilkes hit Tyran Watkins in tight coverage for 18 yards, down to the Vikings' 35. Wilkes then spiked the ball, stopping the clock.
Then came the play that won the game for the Wildcats.
Wilkes took the snap and looked for a receiver. He fired the ball to Burney. Burney and a defender went for the ball, and Burney came up with it. Then he got away from the defender, and saw no one standing between him and the goal line. The senior receiver raced down the Lowndes sideline and into the end zone for the touchdown, giving Valdosta a 21-17 lead with 17 seconds left on the clock.
“It was very important. We needed a big play, and Coach G called a great play, the offensive line held up, Shelby Wilkes (threw) a great ball,” Burney said.
Then on the ensuing kickoff, Kent sent a laser that hit a Viking, and was once again recovered by Valdosta. After a 15-yard celebration penalty, Wilkes took one knee, and the game was over.
It was an amazing end to an amazing game.
“To come out on top in a game like this is great,” Gillespie said.
Valdosta improved to 6-1, and 1-0 in Region 1-AAAAA. Fifth-ranked Lowndes fell to 5-2, and 0-1 in the region.
“They played hard. Boy what a game,” Lowndes head coach Randy McPherson said.
The first quarter of the game was scoreless, but Lowndes quickly grabbed the lead in the second quarter.
In the final minute of the first quarter, Lowndes reached into its bag of tricks, and pulled off a spectacular play. Quarterback Lance Jarriel took the snap, faked a handoff and as he was being hit by a defender, he pitched to Josh Clemons on an end around play. Clemons started to run with the ball, then stopped and fired deep downfield. Lowndes’ Jordan Williams was standing there all alone. Williams caught the ball, avoided a defender that had sprinted downfield and raced untouched into the end zone for an apparent touchdown. But the Vikings were penalized for having an ineligible man downfield, which wiped out the touchdown.
But after the teams switched sides for the second quarter, Jarriel hit Tyler VanderZanden out of the backfield for 21 yards, to the Valdosta 47. On the next play, Mike Moore took the handoff, went up the middle, and after getting through the line, he cut left, outran the secondary and sprinted into the end zone for a touchdown, giving the Vikings a 6-0 lead.
On their next possession, the Vikings drove for another score, going 48 yards in seven plays. Six straight runs moved the ball to the 7. Then Jarriel faked the handoff and dumped the ball to VanderZanden in the flat. VanderZanden caught the pass at the 2, and crossed the goal line for the score. Then Jarriel kept on the two-point conversion attempt, and dove into the end zone to give Lowndes a 14-0 lead.
Lowndes’ defense held Valdosta to just seven yards rushing and 33 yards of total offense in the first half. Meanwhile Moore gained 118 yards on 11 carries.
Valdosta got the opening kickoff of the second half, and drove 80 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown. Demetrius Melvin caught three passes on the drive, for 30 yards, and Watkins had a big third down catch early in the drive. Lowndes had an interception wiped out by a pass interference penalty. On third-and-goal from the Lowndes 9, Wilkes threw a screen pass to Albritton, who ran into the end zone for the touchdown. Kent’s extra point cut Lowndes’ lead to 14-7.
A few minutes later, a Viking defender hit Wilkes and forced him to cough up the ball. Lowndes’ Stacey Wright recovered at the 12-yard line. That led to a 27-yard field goal by Matt Mackenstein, which gave Lowndes a 17-7 lead with 8:23 left in the game.
Valdosta’s Sherrod Inman returned the ensuing kickoff all the way to the Lowndes 19, setting the Wildcats up in great field position. Valdosta had first-and-goal at the 6, and two Malcolm Joseph runs moved the ball to the 1.5-yard line. The Viking defense then stuffed Joseph on third down.
Then came fourth down. Wilkes handed off to fullback Jarvis Roberts, who plowed into the end zone behind the right side of the line for an apparent touchdown. But just before the snap, a defensive lineman jumped into the neutral zone, and when that happens in high school football, the play is immediately blown dead. So they had to replay fourth down from the 1-foot line. This time, Lowndes’ defense stuffed Roberts short of the goal line, and the Vikings took over.
Clemons ended Valdosta’s next possession with an interception with about three minutes left in the game. But Valdosta’s defense forced LHS to go three-and-out, and the Wildcats got the ball back. Then the Wildcats worked their magic, and pulled off an amazing victory.
Wilkes completed 16 of 25 passes for 205 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
Moore led the Vikings with 145 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Wildcats end seven-year drought with 21-17 win over Lowndes
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