Special to the Times
The Valwood Valiants easily disposed of the visiting Crusaders of Trinity Christian High School (Dublin, Ga.) by a score of 35-0 in the semifinals of the GISA Class AA State Playoffs on Friday.
After moving to a perfect 12-0 and recording their first shutout of the 2013 season, the defending state champions are now one game away from claiming back-to-back state titles.
“It feels good,” Head Coach Ashley Henderson said. “It was a total team effort and I couldn’t be more proud of the players and the coaching staff.”
Once again, the win was earned on the strength of the Valiants’ defensive effort. Anchored by a dominant front line, they were able to hold the Crusaders to only 126 yards of total offense.
“(The defense) works hard every week,” Valiant junior defensive lineman Colby DeCesare said. “We have a physical mentality. We come out wanting to dominate every week and were able to do that again tonight.”
After a slow start by both teams, the Valiants began to dominate, led by tremendous efforts from seniors Char Merine and Kyle Wilkes.
After a scoreless first quarter, an early second-quarter touchdown by senior running back Reggie Robinson opened the scoreboard for the Valiants. The extra point attempt was blocked, leaving Valwood with a 6-0 lead with 9:39 remaining in the second quarter.
“Reggie has been a force for us all year,” Coach Henderson said. “He’s been everything that we could possibly ask him to be.”
Shortly after, the Valiants’ defense began to take over. A tipped pass from Crusaders’ quarterback Gunnar Dixon landed in the hands of Merine. The end result was a 16-yard return for a touchdown, and a successful two-point conversion by junior tight end Anthony Folkerts gave the Valiants a 14-0 lead with 5:25 remaining in the first half.
“It was a game-changing moment,” Merine said. “I just knew I had to get to the end zone. It’s our last game in front of our home crowd and we had to give it our all.”
It wasn’t long before the Valiants added to their lead. The Crusaders’ ensuing possession was interrupted with an interception by sophomore defensive back Terry Carter, who was able to return the pick to the Crusaders’ ten-yard line.
Returning to the offensive side of the ball, a handoff to Wilkes ended with a one-yard touchdown run. After a converted extra point, the Valiants’ lead stood at 21-0 heading into halftime.
In the second half, the defending champions were able to put the game out of reach. Perhaps the biggest play of the half came on a 60-yard bomb from senior Seth Carlo to junior wide receiver Alex Jackson.
Jackson’s reception moved the Valiants all the way to the Crusaders’ one-yard line, and on the following play Carlo was able to maneuver his way into the end zone, bringing Valwood’s lead to 28-0.
Carlo’s rushing touchdown was only a small part of his remarkable night. He ended the game completing 15 of 19 passes for 262 yards. He also connected on a six-yard touchdown pass to Merine, which gave the Valiants a 35-0 lead that lasted until the final buzzer sounded.
After Carlo left the field, sophomore quarterback Peyton Trancygier took over and was able to leave his mark on the game as well. Taking full advantage of an impressive offensive line, Trancygier was able to break away for two runs totaling 30 yards.
“We’re getting real comfortable as a team,” Carlo said. “I’m coming out and talking to my receivers more as the season progresses, and (Peyton) is one of the smartest quarterbacks I’ve ever worked with. We’re just having a ball out here.”
The Crusaders were able to get into scoring position late in the third quarter. They managed to get inside the Valiants’ 15-yard line, but an excellent defensive stop by Wilkes sent the visitors away empty-handed.
“We started off slow, but we were able to click and get things going,” Wilkes said. “(My teammates) are a great bunch of guys and I’m just glad to be able to contribute.”
Valiant junior Zach Edmondson finished the night with seven carries totaling 58 yards. His brother, Zane, added 44 yards on seven carries. He also recorded one reception for four yards.
Friday’s victory sets up a rematch against the Matadors of Memorial Day Academy (Savannah, Ga.) in the state title game. In their last meeting on Sept. 13, the Valiants edged out a 13-12 win on a 42-yard field goal by Valwood senior kicker Carter Elliott.
“It’s only fitting that we play (Memorial Day Academy) for the title,” Coach Henderson said. “They gave us a tough game at the beginning of the year and we look forward to seeing them again.”
The GISA Class AA State Championship Game will take place at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. on Nov. 30. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.