The Valdosta Daily Times
Another Winnersville, another classic. Lowndes beat cross-town rival Valdosta 3-0 in the lowest scoring Winnersville Classic in the rivalry's 45 year history in front of a sold out Martin Stadium.
The Vikings defense played out of their collective minds to earn their second shutout of the season, and this one was far from easy.
After both teams narrowly avoided an early disaster with both quarterbacks botching handoffs they were fortunate enough to get back, Lowndes drove down the field in 13 plays and Nick Hart hit a 27-yard field goal to give the Vikings a 3-0 lead.
Considering last year's Winnersville ended with a game-winning field goal, no one in the stadium would have expected a game-winning field goal in the first quarter of the game. But Lowndes' defense proceeded to hold Valdosta to just 207 yards on 52 plays to preserve the final margin of victory.
While the entire defense played an amazing game, Zack Copeland looked like a man among boys throughout the entire game, earning player of the game honors from the Great American Rivalry Series presented by the U.S. Marine Corps.
Copeland finished the game with nine tackles, each one of them as big as the last in keeping the Cats potent run game bottled up.
"I just had to think 'be an animal'," said Copeland. "Just be an animal and be in on every play. I just prayed before the game and thought about being an animal the rest of the game."
The entire defense of Lowndes tackled exceptionally well all night which kept Valdosta from breaking off any of the big plays their offense has lived on all season.
As much as the Vikings will remember this game for the fantastic defensive effort, Wildcat fans will lament all of the opportunities they missed in a game where one big play could have made the difference.
The Wildcats couldn't capitalize on multiple opportunities to either tie the game or take the lead, including two occasions before the half.
Loudermilk botched his second hand-off of the night, but this time the Vikings were able to jump on the ball at the Valdosta 48 yard line. Unfortunately, Lowndes would go three-and-out and punt the ball back to Valdosta despite the momentum and field position on their side.
Once Valdosta got the ball back, quarterback Seth Shuman found Alex Cason on a quick slant; Cason blew past the defenders before being run down for a touchdown saving tackle by Eric Hart.
Hart's tackle would turn out to be huge as the Vikings defense held the Wildcats on the next three plays thanks to a holding call, forcing Valdosta to attempt a 45 yard field goal that would fall short with about a minute before halftime.
owndes would fail to pick up a first down to run out the clock leaving Valdosta with 30 seconds and no timeouts after the punt.
However, once again the Wildcats could not get onto the scoreboard. Shuman completed a deep pass against prevent defense to give Valdosta a shot at a 48 yard field goal, but it fell short again.
Valdosta's best, and ultimately last, chance to score came early in the third quarter.
After three-and-outs from both teams to begin the half, the Wildcats suddenly found a rhythm on offense, but yet again Valdosta shot themselves in the foot.
FIrst, Malcolm Herring broke a run to the outside and barely stepped out of bounds while turning the corner on what could have been a touchdown. A few plays later, Cason caught a pass and took the ball within the ten yard line before being pushed out of bounds.
Three plays, and three big stops by the Vikings defense, later the Wildcats lined up for a 22-yard field goal that would tie the game at 3-3, but a combination of Eric Hart and Alex Brown got their fingertips on the football to keep the Cats scoreless.
Neither team would threaten to score until the Wildcats final possession. Shuman connected with Cason along the sidelines three times, but without any timeouts, the time expired after Cason failed to get out of bounds on the final play of the game.
The teams looked similar on paper, both teams boasting strong running games, strong defense and just enough passing to keep teams honest but each team decided on a different game plan against teams that were certain to know each other well.
The Vikings decided to stick with their strength, the run game, running the ball 36 times as they tried to wear out the Wildcats front seven. But Valdosta's tough defense held Lowndes to just 94 total yards.
Valdosta decided to deviate from their usual run-based offense, instead passing the ball 29 times for 168 yards compared to just 22 rushes for 39 yards.
The previous record for the lowest scoring Winnersville Classic since Lowndes defeated Valdosta 6-0 in 1980.
The Vikings will travel to Coffee County next week for another big region game. Fans can listen to the game on 99.5 FM. Kick-off is set for 7:30 p.m.