Samuel D. Logan
The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valdosta High Wildcats played an epic first round playoff game against the Langston Hughes High Panthers in Fairburn Friday night. However when the clock hit zero, the Wildcats suffered a loss to the Panthers, 34-20.
On offense, the Wildcats only managed to gain 267 yards.
Senior running backs Malcolm Joseph and Nelson Herring combined for 146 rushing yards. Joseph ended the game with 21 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown, while Herring finished with 17 carries for 54 yards, but did not see the end zone.
The defense gave up 343 offensive yards, with 236 of them coming from a dynamic rushing attack.
The Wildcats had a few costly penalties, but only for 40 yards, as opposed to the 60 of the Panthers.
The Wildcats gave up the ball twice, while the Panthers only lost the ball once.
“I am proud of this senior group. They showed a heck of a lot of leadership. We lost some key players this season, obviously starting off with the loss of (Cole) Massinghill, and we fought through it all season,” said Valdosta Head Coach Rance Gillespie. “This is not how we wanted to end our season, but I don’t think our seniors have anything to hang their head about. We played with heart once again tonight; the outcome just did not come out in our favor.”
The Panthers got the ball first, going 3 and out after the Wildcats defense forced a 3rd and 14 from the Panthers 2-yard line and forced a punt.
On the Wildcats first possession, they quickly used their playmakers to score. With junior quarterback Craig Barry taking the starting snap of the game, Barry found Herring for a quick first down screen pass. The Wildcats continued to drive down the field scoring on a short run by Joseph. The score became VHS 7, LHHS 0 after the score.
On the Panthers next drive, their offense began to piece together what looked like a scoring drive at first, but the ‘Cats defense did not fold and held strong, forcing a Panthers punt. On the punt, the Wildcats got pressure up the middle and blocked the kick. Kaleb Whitfield, a special team player for the Wildcats, recovered the blocked punt and ran it a few yards before the ‘Cats took over on offense.
The Wildcats were held to a field goal by kicker Brennan Goodson, making the score VHS 10, LHHS 0.
After another 3 and out by the Panthers, the Wildcats proceeded to march down the field to the opposing 16-yard line and were held to another field goal by Goodson, making the score VHS 13, LHHS 0.
On the ensuing Panther drive, senior running back Keion Davis found the end zone for Hughes’ first touchdown of the game and the second quarter began. The score moved to VHS 13, LHHS 7 after a successful extra point attempt.
After an amazing catch by Alex Cason moved the Wildcats to the Panthers 6-yard line on the next drive, the ‘Cats drive stalled, and settled for another field goal attempt. The kick went wide right however, turning the ball over to the Panthers for a new drive.
After both teams were unsuccessful on their next drives, Hughes got the ball once more and tasted the end zone for the second time of the night. Davis scored a 55-yard touchdown that tied the score at LHHS 13, VHS 13, after the extra point was blocked by the Wildcats.
Both teams made major adjustments during halftime but the Panthers were simply able to execute better.
After returning from the half, the Wildcats came out with a run first mentality and drove all the way down the field. After going for a 4th and 1 from the Panthers 4-yard line, the ‘Cats turned the ball over on downs. The score remained tied at 13-13.
With the ball on their own 4-yard line, the Panthers strung together an explosive 96-yard drive to reach the end zone, making the score LHHS 20, VHS 13. The Panthers took their first lead of the night and continued to add to it.
On the Wildcats ensuing possession, Barry was sacked and fumbled the ball, and the ball was recovered by the Panthers at the Valdosta 27-yard line.
After good field position, the Panthers could not score, thanks to good defensive play by senior defensive back Demarcus Rhym, and the Panthers turned the ball over on downs.
With the ball on their own 5-yard line, the Wildcats went three and out.
The punt by Loudermilk went about 35-yards and was returned for a Panthers touchdown, moving their lead to 27-13.
After failing to move the ball again, the Wildcats tried a fake punt play and were unsuccessful, giving the ball back to the Panthers. They took advantage of a short field and scored on a wide receiver sweep by senior Jocques Ross.
With the score 34-13, the ‘Cats had just a few more chances to score.
Barry stood in the pocket in the red zone for the ‘Cats on their next drive, but was intercepted by senior defensive back Keion Davis in the end zone.
The last score by the ‘Cats came on the next drive, after receiver Ricco Ramsey recovered a blocked punt for a Wildcat touchdown on their last possession of the game, ending the night and their season with a 34-20 loss.