The Valdosta Daily Times
Gustavo Gonzales watched the Lowndes Vikings give up 14 points to archrival Valdosta and lose last year’s Winnersville Classic.
On Friday night, the senior kicked the Vikings (7-0) to a 17-14 win over the rival Wildcats (3-3) in the Winnersville Classic at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.
Gonzales split the uprights with a 40-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Vikings to the win, sending the visitors’ side of the stadium into a jubilant celebration. The Valdosta fans fell silent in disbelief at a game that had just gotten away.
“This is crazy,” said Gonzales just minutes after kicking his team to the win. “Last year I came and I was in the student section and now I’m kicking the game-winning field goal. I just want to thank God.
“It is indescribable.”
Following his kick, Gonzales and the Vikings celebrated on the Wildcats’ home turf, much like the ’Cats did a year ago at Lowndes’ home stadium when they knocked off the Vikings in dramatic fashion.
Part of the celebration featured Gonzales being hoisted onto the shoulders of his teammates while they and the Viking crowd chanted his name in celebration.
It will be a moment Gonzales will never forget.
“It is just a big game, (and) I can’t believe it came to the kicker,” Gonzales said. “I dreamed about this last night. It is a dream come true.”
After the game, Lowndes head coach Randy McPherson had nothing but great things to stay about his inexperienced senior kicker that came up big one of high school football’s biggest stages.
“I know what kind of kid he is,” McPherson said. “He is an unbelievable student, like over a 4.0 (GPA), nothing but (advanced placement) classes. He has been playing soccer his whole life, showed up out there this summer and just fell in love with a football. He never kicked it until this summer.
“I knew he was going to make it.”
Lowndes’ game-winning field goal was set up by a Tiquan Lang interception with just over two minutes to play. Lang returned the interception well into Lowndes territory, setting up a few runs to improve the field goal position.
Gonzales took care of the rest with his game-winning kick.
“It is amazing,” Gonzales said. “Tiquan Lang got that pick to set up that field goal and that was all I needed.”
Gonzales’ field goal as time expired capped off a perfect night for the kicker. He accounted for Lowndes’ only offensive production through the first three quarters, connecting on 21-yard field goal to score the only points in the first half (for either team) and 37 yard field in the third quarter that cut Lowndes’ deficit to 7-6 heading into the final quarter of play.
The Vikings’ only touchdown of the game came with 4:17 remaining in the fourth quarter. Former Valdosta Wildcat turned Viking starting quarterback Alex Stephenson connected with Nick Burgman for a 20-yard TD, which cut Valdosta’s lead to 14-12. Lang added the two-point conversion with a run to the right side, making the score 14-14.
On Valdosta’s ensuing possession, quarterback Shelby Wilkes threw across the middle looking for Alex Cason. The pass was tipped in the air and Lang came down with the interception. The rest will live in Winnersville history.
Gonzales would have had an opportunity to connect on a fourth field goal on the night. With time winding down in the second quarter and no timeouts remaining, Stephenson fumbled the ball for the Vikings. He managed to recover but time was clicking off the clock as the field goal unit raced onto the field. On the last-second field goal attempt, Stephenson fumbled the snap and was sacked. Lowndes led 3-0 at the half.