The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valdosta Wildcats know what they have to do to make the playoffs. If they win Friday night, they are in the playoffs. If they lose, they probably won’t make it.
Valdosta will travel to Douglas on Friday to play Coffee at 8 p.m. in a game with huge playoff implications for both teams.
Right now, the Wildcats (6-3, 3-2 in region play) are tied for third in Region 1-6A with Colquitt County, a team they beat 38-36 on Oct. 26. But Coffee is only a game behind the Wildcats and the Packers, and they know they have to win to have a chance to make the playoffs.
“There’s a sense of urgency. There’s no question about that,” Valdosta head coach Rance Gillespie said. “It’s a huge football game for both teams. Our kids understand that.”
If the Wildcats win, they will finish third in Region 1. If they lose and Colquitt upsets No. 1 Camden County, the Packers would finish third, Coffee would be fourth and Valdosta would miss the playoffs.
If Coffee beats Valdosta and Camden beats Colquitt, the Wildcats, the Trojans and the Packers would finish in a three-way tie for third (Camden and Lowndes have already clinched first and second). In that case, the team that had allowed the fewest points in region games against playoff-eligible teams (Camden, Lowndes, Valdosta, Coffee and Colquitt) would get the third seed. The tie between the other two teams would then get broken by the result of their head-to-head meeting. Going into Friday’s games, Colquitt has allowed 64 points in its three games against Valdosta, Lowndes and Coffee (it hasn’t played Camden yet), while Valdosta gave up 96 points to Camden, Lowndes and Colquitt and Coffee allowed 97 points to Camden, Lowndes and Colquitt.
Valdosta’s coach knows the Wildcats have to come ready to play on Friday. But that’s no different than any other region game, in his opinion.
“This region demands that you’re at your best constantly,” Gillespie said.
Last Friday, Valdosta’s offense played one of its best games of the season in a 41-24 win over Brunswick. The Wildcats scored five touchdowns, got two field goals and amassed 363 yards of total offense.
Three players in particular stood out to Gillespie.
Tight end Taijuan Smith, who had only caught four passes all season, had four catches for 112 yards and three touchdowns against Brunswick.
“Taijuan went out and had three touchdown catches, and had really a breakout night,” Gillespie said. “I hope Friday night will go a long way in pushing him towards (playing well the rest of the season).”
Right tackle Ronnie Stoney, a third-year starter, led an offensive line that opened up holes for the Wildcats’ running backs all night long.
“Ronnie Stoney has played as consistent as any offensive lineman I’ve probably ever coached. He’s played really well all season,” Gillespie said.
But the player that Gillespie said was the Wildcats’ player of the game on offense was running back Nelson Herring. Herring rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries in the win.
Herring also had one of the biggest plays of the game. On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Herring took the handoff, found a hole, sprinted past the defenders and raced 65 yards untouched into the end zone, giving the Wildcats a 17-10 lead. Valdosta would hold the lead the rest of the game.
Herring and Malcolm Joseph usually split time in the Wildcats’ backfield. But Joseph was nursing an injury, so Herring had to take on a bigger load, and he did.
“Nelson knew that he was going to have to shoulder the load and carry it a little bit more,” Gillespie said. “That’s different when you’ve got those two guys. No. 1, they’re like brothers. They’re really close. They get along extremely well. No. 2, they’ve always had the other one to lean on, and they work so perfectly together. ... They enjoy one another, they share the load, they don’t mind (sharing carries). But when you take one out of the equation (it’s) different. I think (Nelson) understood that, and he kind of stepped up.”