Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

October 12, 2012

Column: Friday night fever

VALDOSTA — Here we go. It is Winnersville night. For all you employers throughout the city of Valdosta and Lowndes County, sorry that none of your employees came to work today.

I know that if you drive by Bazemore-Hyder Stadium some time today, you will see them out there tailgating and getting ready for the biggest high school football game of the year.

Tonight will be just my second Winnersville Classic ever, and it will be hard to top the first one I ever took in. Last year’s 21-17 win for Valdosta at Martin Stadium was unbelievable. Not many games will ever top that. I still get excited thinking about what kind of finish we all witnessed that night.

Before I move on, tonight’s game between the Vikings and Wildcats is not on television. It is on local radio, though. You can also get a play-by-play account of tonight’s game by following me on Twitter at @Ed_Hooper.

As for the Pick ‘em standings, Christian leads me by one game. He sits with a 28-9 record. I am 27-10 this year.

Lowndes at Valdosta

I have been asked about 100 times this week who am I taking in tonight’s game, or what the keys to the game are going to be. First off, my prediction is below, and here is my justification for it.

Last year’s finish at Martin Stadium was incredible. The Wildcats played all 48 minutes, and the Vikings didn’t. Let’s be honest, if the Vikings would have played all 48 minutes, then they would be going for nine straight wins tonight over their rival. But they didn’t, and instead are looking to avoid a two-game losing streak to the Wildcats.

Besides this being Winnersville and it already being a massive game, tonight’s game means so much when it comes down to the playoff picture in Region 1-6A. If the Vikings win, they need a victory over Coffee next weekend and Tift County the following week to secure a home game in the playoffs. What does a loss do to Valdosta?

Well, if the Wildcats lose tonight’s game, it will be an extremely tough uphill road to make the playoffs. If Valdosta wins, though, both teams will have a region loss and all kinds of fun still will happen over the next few weeks.

Looking at this game, I think the addition of quarterback Alex Stephenson to Lowndes (after transferring from Valdosta) doesn’t mean as much as the addition of defensive coordinator Taz Dixon. Dixon knows how Valdosta head coach Rance Gillespie thinks, how Shelby Wilkes will call the plays at the line, how certain players make cuts and what they think while on the field. Two years of serving under Gillespie and coaching the Wildcats will give any coach that advantage.

I think Dixon’s presence will be huge tonight, and will help the Lowndes defense be even more impressive than it already has been this season, which has been pretty darn impressive.

Also, the Wildcats gave up a ton of yards on the ground to Camden County two weeks ago. News flash: the Vikings like to run the football, a lot. If Valdosta hasn’t learned anything from its loss to Camden County, it is going to be a long night for the VHS faithful.

In the end, I think Lowndes has a better football team this season, and the loss from last year hasn’t been forgotten. The Vikings remember watching the Wildcats celebrate like they had just won the state championship. That didn’t sit well with them.

I like both teams and respect both coaches, a lot. I like to think I have a great relationship with both head coaches and several members of both coaching staffs. I wish both teams well and no matter who wins, I will be happy for that team and I will feel bad for the loser. I just want to go out there tonight to see a great football game between two great schools that simply want to beat one another.

Ed: Lowndes 28, Valdosta 17

Christian: Lowndes looks like the clear favorite tonight. But I've seen enough Winnersville Classics to know that just about anything can happen when Lowndes plays Valdosta. The underdog has won the Winnersville Classic four times since 2000. So why not pick the underdog tonight? Valdosta 17, Lowndes 16

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