The Valdosta Daily Times
The last two games of the regular season will be critical ones for the Valdosta football team, as it battles for a playoff spot.
The Wildcats (5-3) are currently 2-2 in region play. If Valdosta wins its last two games, both on the road, it will finish third in Region 1-6A (barring any unforeseen upsets). The Wildcats travel to sixth-place Brunswick on Friday, then go to Coffee next week.
“We’re sitting in a decent spot. At least we control our own destiny,” Valdosta head coach Rance Gillespie said. “We feel like our playoffs started two weeks ago. That’s kind of what we’ve preached to our kids. When you get into a playoff run, you don’t know who (you’re playing) the next week, and you don’t care who’s the next week. All you do is focus on one game at a time. That’s kind of where we’re at. This week, it’s Brunswick, and they’re getting our total attention.
“In this region, you’ve got to be ready to play every Friday night.”
The Wildcats won a very important region game last week, defeating longtime rival Colquitt County 38-36 at Cleveland Field at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. That moved them into a three-way tie for third place with Colquitt and Coffee.
Gillespie believes his team is continuing to get better.
“I do,” he said. “That’s what we want to do. We want to get better each and every week, and I think we’ve done that. I still don’t think that we’ve played to our full potential, but I’m pleased with the progress that we’ve shown every week. And I think we’re continuing to get better, which is a really positive thing.”
Valdosta had one of its best offensive games of the season last Friday. The Wildcats had 361 yards of total offense, rushed for 274 yards and scored five touchdowns in the first 26 minutes of the game.
“I thought we executed some stuff really well,” Gillespie said. “Moultrie did do a lot of things. They give you a lot of different pressures, and do some things that’s not just run of the mill stuff. It’s stuff that you don’t just see every day, stuff that people are doing on Saturdays. It’s some upper level stuff to prepare for. I thought our kids were prepared, I thought our kids came out and executed really well.
“The offensive line matched up their pressures really good, and I thought our backs ran with really good vision, and showed patience at times. Then when we did throw the ball, we executed those things as well.”
And while Gillespie did not like seeing his defense give up 22 points in the last four minutes of the game, he gave credit to Colquitt for playing extremely well during its late rally.
“They just got hot as a firecracker with four minutes left in the game,” Valdosta’s coach said. “To their credit, they had kids that made plays.”
Valdosta does not have any major injuries. Every player on the Wildcats’ roster is expected to be available to play on Friday.
“We’ve got some bumps and bruises, but it’s nothing that’s going to keep anybody out,” Gillespie said.
Valdosta’s two main running backs continue to lead the offense. Malcolm Joseph leads the Wildcats with 697 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns this season. Last week, he had one of the biggest games of his Wildcat career, gaining 167 yards on 23 carries and scoring three touchdowns.
Nelson Herring has run for 677 yards and six touchdowns, and averages 7.7 yards per carry. Last week, he also went over the 100-yard mark, running for 117 yards on 18 carries and scoring a touchdown.
Joseph and Herring are also two of the Wildcats’ top receivers. Joseph leads the team with 24 catches, and his 226 yards rank second. Herring has 11 catches for 179 yards (third on the team), and he leads the team with four touchdown catches.
Valdosta’s ninth grade team ended its season last week, so many of the players from that team have joined the varsity this week.
A lot of the players won’t get any Friday night playing time, but spending the rest of the regular season and the playoffs with the varsity will give them some valuable experience.
“That always kind of brings a little spark to practice when you get that change, and it did,” Gillespie said.