The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valwood Valiants continued their winning ways Friday, picking up a decisive 39-7 victory over the Gators of Gatewood High School (Eatonton, Ga.) in the second round of the 2013 GISA Class AA State Playoffs.
The defending champions used a highly-impressive defensive showing to clamp down on the visiting Gators, allowing only 73 yards of offense while recording a staggering five sacks by five different players.
“(The defense) is executing well,” Head Coach Ashley Henderson said. “I can’t say enough about what the assistant coaches are doing. They are calling great plays and the team is responding well.”
Valiants made its presence felt from the opening kickoff. After a return by senior Char Merine to their own 45-yard line, the Valiants managed to pull out a seven-play, 50-yard drive that lasted nearly four minutes. The end result, a 24-yard field goal by senior kicker Carter Elliott, gave the Valiants an early 3-0 lead.
Immediately after, the defense forced a quick four-and-out, allowing the offense, led by senior quarterback Seth Carlo, to take over once again.
The Valiants’ second possession was more of the same. A six-play drive was capped with a 36-yard touchdown run by junior Zane Edmondson. A converted extra point by Elliott gave the home team a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Carlo, who had one of his most efficient games as a Valiant, pushed the lead to 17-0 halfway through the second quarter with a four-yard score on a quarterback keeper.
His rushing touchdown only added to his tremendous night. He also connected on 13 of 17 passing attempts for 202 yards and one touchdown.
“I’m feeling a lot more comfortable,” Carlo said. “My linemen are making it really easy to read the opposing defenses and that makes it so much easier to make plays.”
After missing the opening-round victory over Community Christian due to injury, junior Marik Merine returned in emphatic fashion. He accounted for 14 yards on two rushing attempts, as well as four receptions totaling 68 yards, including a 43-yard bomb from Carlo that led Merine into the end zone.
The touchdown sent the Valiants to the locker room with a 24-0 lead at halftime.
“Coming in at the beginning of the year, we knew we had something special here with this team,” Merine said. “Everybody is playing as a team, and I feel like we have hit that level where everybody is kicking. We win as a team…We’re ready.”
The special teams also played a major role in the victory. Elliott’s outstanding efforts led to over a dozen touchbacks for the Gators.
“(Elliott) is huge for Valwood,” Coach Henderson said. “His leg is so strong that most teams can’t even try to return it. We are definitely glad he’s on our side.”
The few punts or kicks that were fielded by the visitors pinned them so deep that it was impossible to put together an effective return.
“It’s really big,” Elliott said. “Not many teams in our league have true kickers. I just go out there every week and try to get the ball in the end zone every time.”
Nearly five minutes into the third quarter, a short punt by Gatewood was returned by junior Garrett Lovell for a touchdown, giving the Valiants a 37-0 lead.
Later in the quarter, another sack by the Valiants, this time by senior James Braswell, handed the Gators an 18-yard loss and a safety, pushing the one-sided score out to 39-0.
An interception by Gators’ defensive back Michael Fordham with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter was returned 43 yards to give Gatewood its only touchdown of the contest.
“We’re executing efficiently,” Coach Henderson said. “We’re playing well in every aspect of the game and I can’t say enough about this team. I’m proud of this team and what lies ahead of us.”
Anthony Folkerts contributed with three receptions totaling 32 yards, while picking up a sack that pinned the Gators deep in their own territory.
Senior Kyle Wilkes added 40 yards on two receptions. Junior Zane Edmondson finished the night with 86 yards and one touchdown on eight carries.
Friday’s win brings Valwood one step closer to its ultimate goal of repeating as state champions. It also extends Valwood’s win streak to 25 games.
The Valiants return to action in the semifinals of the GISA Class AA State Playoffs on Nov. 22. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Goddard Field.