Samuel D. Logan
The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valdosta Wildcats (5-3) will face the Brunswick Pirates (3-5) on Cleveland Field at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium at 8 p.m. today.
Both teams are 1-3 in region play and face a must-win game to reach the playoffs. The game will likely come down to which team wants the win more.
“They’re going to want it just as bad as we do,” said Valdosta Head Coach Rance Gillespie.
Last week, the Wildcats fell on the road to the Colquitt Packers 17-10. The ‘Cats defense stood tall once again, holding the Packers to 198 total yards. The Packers were averaging 400 yards a game before the bout.
“Our kids left everything out on that field,” said Gillespie in reference to last week’s effort. The Wildcats had a balanced offensive attack, with 108 yards on the ground and 105 through the air. But Gillespie would like to see more from his offense this week.
“We are going to be better. We have to get even more balanced on offense and execute,” said Gillespie.
This week, look for the running-back duo of Malcolm Joseph and Nelson Herring who both had 11 carries a piece last week gained 83 and 46 yards respectively, to be a focal point of the offense. With Herring ranking No. 3 in the region in rushing and Joseph right behind him at No. 5, the backs have been pretty much unstoppable all season and have the ability to win games for the ‘Cats.
Seth Shuman is the sophomore quarterback who took the reins as starter earlier in the season. Shuman is growing each week and showing that he can deliver solid passes from the pocket, when he has one. Shuman has played an important factor in the re-emergence of receiver Alex Cason, a Marshall commit, that went from zero catches in week one to the No. 2 receiver in terms of yardage after eight games.
Gillespie noted that the Pirates have a “much better” defensive unit than in years past, due to their hiring of a new defensive coordinator.
They will throw a lot of different fronts and looks at the ‘Cats, including 3-4, 4-3 and hybrid looks to confuse the ‘Cats young quarterback. The defensive line has players that fit the part for the position, big and built.
The secondary of the Pirates is very athletic, but doesn’t seem to be a huge factor in this game, due to the run heavy offense of the ‘Cats, despite trying to be balanced.
The Pirates offense will be run by quarterback Cory Dixon. Dixon is a dual threat quarterback who can make you pay through the air, or with his feet on the ground. Dixon is also a member of the Pirates secondary in key red zone situations.
“They have skill guys that can get out in space. (Cory) Dixon has started for them for three years. Whenever you have a three-year starter, you know they’re good,” said Gillespie.
They also use a two running back set to change the pace of the game.
“At times they switch their runningback styles. They have a big bruiser and a speed guy; their speed running back can really fly,” said Gillespie.
The linebackers will have to stay on their assignments this week and the defensive line has to plug the gaps to help keep big runs to a minimal. Terrell Roundtree and Anthony Smith are the players expected to step up big in this game for the linebacker position.
With a quarterback that likes to throw the ball, the Wildcat secondary will once again be tested. The secondary has been big for the Wildcats this season, not allowing any long pass plays to go for touchdowns.
Defensive backs Tre Barrett, Joshua Norwood and Demarcus Rhym will be called on by the defense to make big plays in the secondary. Causing turnovers will be important and these defenders have made it known this season that they are not shy to intercept a quarterback.
The Pirates have a different philosophy when it comes to field goals and extra points than most teams in the region. They do not kick them. Expect the Pirates to go for it on fourth down when they’re in the red zone and always prepare to defend the two-point conversion.
“We have to execute. We cannot turnover the football, but we must cause them. The defense has to continue not giving up the big play. Overall, they will be challenging,” added Gillespie.
The Wildcats know they must win this game and one thing is for certain, this will be a region game to watch. Last year, Valdosta took the victory with a 41-24 win.