Valdosta Daily Times

October 12, 2012

Column: Friday night fever

Ed Hooper
The Valdosta Daily Times

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

Fitzgerald at Brooks County

We are all talking about the Winnersville Classic here in Valdosta and Lowndes County, but everyone over there in Brooks County and throughout Region 1-AA is talking about that clash tonight between the Purple Hurricanes and the Trojans in Quitman.

Both teams are ranked inside the top five of AA (Brooks County is second and Fitzgerald is fourth) and both have aspirations of winning a state championship this season.

Brooks County was embarrassed by Fitzgerald last year, and the Trojans haven’t forgotten it. The 39-0 whooping the Hurricanes handed out was a shocker to many people, including me. That was for the region championship, and the Trojans didn’t show up.

While a region champion won’t be crowned tonight, the winner of this meeting does have a front-runner seat to claiming Region 1-AA.

In the end, Malcolm Parrish of Brooks County is too good, too quick, too strong, too fast and too hungry for another win. Plus, the Hurricanes were dominated by Cook last week, but somehow still won the game. If they get dominated by the Trojans this week (like being outgained by 200-plus yards like last week), then Brooks County will roll to a win.

Ed: Brooks County 28, Fitzgerald 20

Christian: Brooks County 31, Fitzgerald 24

Other games:

Valwood at Terrell Academy

Ed: Valwood 44, Terrell 28

Christian: Valwood 38, Terrell 21

Irwin County at Clinch County

Ed: Clinch County 32, Irwin County 28

Christian: Clinch County 28, Irwin County 14

Valdosta State at North Alabama (Saturday)

Ed: Valdosta State 31, North Alabama 23

Christian: Valdosta State 28, North Alabama 27

Upset picks:

Ed: Mill Creek over North Gwinnett

Christian: Lincoln County over Aquinas