The Valdosta Daily Times
Last night's Winnersville Classic certainly lived up to the name of the game with Lowndes gutting out the most thrilling 3-0 victory you'll ever see over the storied Valdosta Wildcats, and I could not have picked a better time to attend my first edition of the rivalry.
When moving here from Odenton, Md. before the start of my freshman year of high school I had no idea that not only is football a popular sport in the south, it's a way of life.
That statement holds even more truth when it comes to the play of the local high schools, Lowndes and Valdosta.
I began my freshman year in 2005 with Lowndes coming off of a state championship and a Winnersville win in the Randy McPherson era; before I even knew what a state championship was, the Vikings had captured back-to-back
championships and started a streak of seven straight victories over the Wildcats.
I attended some games throughout my high school career, which included yet another state championship — the third in four years — but still I had yet to be in the stands when Lowndes and Valdosta faced-off.
Luckily in 2009, thanks to ESPN3’s airing of the game, I had my first glimpse into the historic rivalry.
But I soon came to realize that the 57-15 beatdown by the Vikings that took place on that day was far from the norm in the series between these two football powerhouses.
The next three games would be decided by a total of 14 points with the Wildcats and Vikings exchanging thrilling last minute victories and in Lowndes’ case, last second victory.
Over the last four years, I've missed the game for a variety of reasons, including covering Deric Herring’s game-winning punt return to lift Brooks County to a thrilling win over Fitzgerald as a stringer for the Times last year, but after listening to the games on radio and seeing my social media explode with accounts of the game — especially 2011-12 — I was determined to attend this year's edition of this great American rivalry.
This past summer, I was fortunate enough to be hired here at the VDT, and when former Times reporter Ed Hooper decided to take a job at the Gainesville Times, I was put in position to be able to cover my high school alma mater.
Having attended Lowndes for four years and covering the Vikings for half a year now, I can pretty easily say that I have never seen Martin Stadium more full of life than it was Friday night.
I arrived at the entrance of the school at 6 p.m. and I was already late to a game with an 8 p.m. start time.
A full two hours before kick-off and fans were already resorting to parking on the band field, on the street, and as far back as Hobby Lobby’s parking lot to get to the game early enough to converse with fellow fans and jeer opposing ones.
Throughout the game, the energy on the field and in the stands was simply electric; neither team’s defense wanted to be the one to make the big mistake, and neither team’s fans wanted to be the ones to let their beloved team down.
But ultimately the Cats blinked in the first quarter and the Vikings never gave them a chance to get back into the game, ending my first Winnersville Classic with Lowndes on top 3-0 in the lowest score in the game’s 45 year history.
As a long time fan and a first time participant in the Winnersville festivities, I could not have asked for any more.