Special to the Times
The Valdosta Wildcats (6-3, 2-3) flashed a two-pronged power-running attack Friday night at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium, as seniors Malcolm Joseph and Nelson Herring ran rampant on an under-matched Brunswick (3-6, 1-4) defense to clinch the fourth and final playoff spot in region 1-6A.
After losing containment and giving up a 70-yard touchdown run to Brunswick running back Ammarious Wilson early in the second quarter, Valdosta played near-flawless football, closing the game on a 41-0 scoring run that saw Joseph and Herring score multiple times apiece.
“Malcolm and Nelson are two good players,” Valdosta head coach Rance Gillespie commented after his team clinched a playoff berth. “We were really trying to run the football and shorten the game, especially with the weather and the way everything played out. When we get into a football game like that, we’ve got two talented guys to give the football to.”
Joseph finished the game with 23 carries for 117 yards, while Nelson Herring added 18 carries for 82 more yards as the Wildcats' offensive line paved the way to the playoffs.
“Our offensive line did a good job all game long as we looked at the matchups and moved some guys around,” Gillespie added.
After falling behind 8-0, Joseph quickly erased the deficit for the Wildcats, using two electrifying touchdown runs right before the half, including one from 27 yards out on 4th and 1 to put Valdosta up 14-8.
Then it was Nelson Herring’s turn to run the show, as Joseph’s senior running mate punched in two touchdowns from close distance to further ice the game.
Valdosta sophomore quarterback Seth Shuman, who finished the game 11 of 19 for 146 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception, also got in on the offensive fireworks, as he found freshman tight end Khalil McClain down the sideline for a 35-yard touchdown strike midway through the fourth quarter, his second scoring pass of the game.
“Football is a game of momentum,” Coach Gillespie said of his team’s scoring run. “Once we made a few big plays, we really got things rolling.”
Valdosta's defense, which is allowing just over 14 points per game on the season, also continued its stellar work, holding an opponent under 20 points for the seventh week in a row.
“We played good defense for the most part all night,”
Gillespie asserted. “We let the ball get out on us one time, but they're a talented football team and that's going to happen from time to time.”
Senior quarterback Cory Dixon was the lone bright spot for Brunswick in Friday night's rout. The third-year starter couldn't manage to get much going through the air, but did run the ball 24 times for 122 yards, most of which came in the first half. In the second half, however, Valdosta bottled Dixon up and ran away with the game.
“We just wanted to contain him the best we could, and I felt like we did that,” Gillespie added. “He was getting six or seven yards on us from time to time, but for the most part we didn't give up any big plays to him and that was a major thing that we wanted to do.”
As the rain fell on Valdosta's post-game huddle, Gillespie assured his team of their chances in the playoffs: “Once you get in, everything is even.”
Should Valdosta continue to have success controlling the tempo of the game by pounding the ball on the ground, the Wildcats will be a tricky proposition and a difficult team to eliminate come playoff time.
The ’Cats face Coffee County next Friday night on Cleveland Field in the team's final match-up before the playoffs begin.