The Valdosta Daily Times
After two disappointing losses in back-to-back semifinal appearances, it was only fitting two Valwood seniors would make a play to save the season and put the Valiants into the state championship game.
With 49.8 seconds remaining and with their backs against the wall, Valwood’s Jackson Pegg and Deshon Day sacked John Milledge quarterback Brantley Attaway on a fourth down-and-nine to secure a 27-24 victory for Valwood and a trip to the Class AA state championship game.
“It was coming down to the nitty gritty right here and they opted to go for it; I thought they would have kicked the field goal,” said Valwood head coach Ashley Henderson, who was nearly knocked over by one of his players during the celebration. “But we had seniors come up with a big play right there.”
Trailing 24-21 with eight minutes remaining, Valwood drove 79 yards on 11 plays, capped off by a 13-yard rushing touchdown by senior Khary Paige, to grab a 27-24 lead. Then with 4:09 remaining, John Milledge took over possession of the ball at its own 40-yard line.
The Trojans used three strong runs by running back Cooper Morgan to move to the Valwood 33 with less than two minutes remaining. A few plays later, Morgan carried John Milledge to the 15-yard line, setting up a third-and-4 with 53.3 seconds remaining.
Valwood stuffed the Trojans’ third down attempt, setting up a fourth-and-four. After a timeout, the Trojans were prepared to go for the first down, but were called for an illegal motion penalty when their fullback was caught running onto the field when the ball was snapped.
Then, on fourth-and-nine, Pegg and Day made one of the biggest sacks of their lives, crunching Attaway to the ground, securing Valwood’s first trip to a state championship game since 2006.
“We had big time players making plays,” Henderson said. “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.”
With the win, Valwood (13-0) will host Westwood in the state championship game next Friday night at Goddard Field. The teams met Oct. 18 in Valdosta. Valwood won 48-18.
“It is a resilient senior class right there,” Henderson said. “Hats off to that senior bunch and like I said day one, ‘They are going to take us as far as they take us.’”
Paige’s touchdown run with 4:15 remaining put Valwood ahead 27-24. The TD run ended a strong second half surge by John Milledge.
After Valwood used a five-play, 80-yard touchdown drive — capped off by a 35-yard TD run by Paige — to open the second half to take a 21-7 lead, the Trojans came thundering back, scoring 17 unanswered points to take the lead early in the fourth quarter.
John Milledge started the comeback by using a 1-yard touchdown run by Morgan on its first drive of the second half to cut Valwood’s lead to just seven. Then, Morgan scored from 1-yard out again, this time with 11:57 remaining. Cooper’s score tied the game at 21-21.
John Milledge wasn’t done, just yet.
With momentum clearly on the Trojans’ side, Valwood’s Jake Lastinger coughed up the ball on a quarterback keeper. John Milledge took over possession at the Valiant 23. Five players later, the Trojans kicked a 23-yard field goal to take a 24-21 lead.
That’s when Valwood put together its game-winning drive, which saw Valwood take advantage of an overturned fumble call, which would have given possession back to the Trojans.
Instead, Valwood was given a new set of downs and preceded to put the ball in the hands of Paige, who got behind his blockers and carried Valwood to the end zone.
Valwood opened the scoring on its second offensive play of the night when quarterback Tyler Williams hit senior Rashad Mathis on a 58-yard screen pass, giving the Valiants a 7-0 lead.
John Milledge answered with a commanding 11-play, 71-yard drive capped off by a two-yard touchdown run by Morgan. Then, Valwood regained the lead on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Char Merine. The scoring connection capped off a 5-play, 80-yard drive for Valwood.
The Valiants’ lead remained 14-7 throughout the second quarter as both teams sputtered and momentum shifted back-and-forth.
Khary Paige finished the night with 184 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns to lead the Valwood offense to 331 yards on the night. Tyler Williams finished 8 of 15 for 138 yards with his two first half touchdowns. Mathis led the Valiants in receiving with five catches for 113 yards.
John Milledge’s Cooper Morgan racked up 127 yards on 30 carries with his three rushing touchdowns to lead the Trojan offense to 252 total yards on the night.