The Valdosta Daily Times
Everything seemed to go right for the Valwood football team in 2012.
After back-to-back appearances in the state semifinals, the Valiants finally reached the state championship game, where they beat the Westwood Wildcats 48-13 to claim the GISA Class AA state championship.
It was Valwood’s fourth all-time state championship, and its first since 1999.
“It is awesome man,” Valwood head coach Ashley Henderson said, just minutes after hoisting the championship trophy. “They have been through the 6 a.m. workouts, and everything they have done — camp, making them spend the night, which was kind of foreign to them — everything they have done, it goes to show that coaches are not as crazy as we look. There is a method behind a madness.”
The state championship run officially ended the four-year transition for the Valiants, from being a doormat GISA program in 2009 to being a state power in 2012.
In 2012, a state power is exactly what the Valiants were. The Valiants won all 14 games by an average of 32.3 points, which included three shutouts.
Led by nine GISA All-Region 3-AA players and six All-State players, which included the school’s first-ever Division I commitment — lineman Aulden Bynum (Georgia) — the Valiants’ dominance was well noted. They held nine opponents to eight or fewer points in a game this season, and scored 30 or more points in 11 of their 14 games, including the state championship game.
After blowing through the regular season with the school’s first-ever undefeated record, the Valiants beat Central Fellowship 41-0 in the first round of the state playoffs, despite being without star running back Khary Paige, who missed the game with an injured ankle.
The following week, the Valiants dominated Trinity Christian, 51-7, and advanced to the semifinals for the third consecutive year.
In the semifinals, the Valiants faced their toughest test of the season, an undefeated John Milledge Academy.
After blowing a 21-7 third quarter lead, the Valiants found themselves trailing 24-21 with eight minutes remaining. That’s when Henderson challenged his senior class to go win the football game, and that is exactly what they did.
Trailing in the fourth quarter for the first time all season, the Valiants drove 79 yards on 11 plays and used a 13-yard rushing touchdown by Paige to take a 27-24 lead with 4:09 remaining.
Then, needing a final stop, the Valwood defense bowed its neck and held John Milledge on a fourth-and-9 play to secure the win.
“We had seniors come up with a big play right there,” Henderson said after the win. “We had big time players making plays. These kids have been making big time plays all year. We had some guys go down with injury, and the guys behind them stepped up.”
The following week, the Valiants faced the Westwood Wildcats in the state championship game at Goddard Field. Already victorious against the Wildcats once this season — they won 48-18 on Oct. 19 in Valdosta — the Valiants stayed focused and pushed through a slow start to secure the 48-13 state championship victory.
In the state championship game, the Valiants racked up 446 yards of total offense, scored on six of their nine offensive possessions and added a defensive touchdown late in the first half to secure the win.
Paige led the team with 179 yards rushing in the game. He finished the season with 1,684 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns.
After the season, nine Valiants were named All-Region, six were named All-State and five were chosen to participate in the annual GISA All-Star Game in Macon.
Henderson was also named the GISA Class AA Coach of the Year, while rising senior Char Merine was chosen to participate in the AT&T Junior Bowl, which will be held tonight at Grady Stadium in Atlanta.