The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valdosta Wildcats begin the state football playoffs tonight in metro Atlanta.
The Wildcats (7-3) face the North Cobb Warriors (8-2) in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs today in Acworth. The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at North Cobb’s Emory Sewell Stadium.
“Our kids are excited about the opportunity, and our kids are ready to play,” Valdosta head coach Rance Gillespie said.
On Thursday night, the Wildcats climbed on the bus and headed north to Acworth, which is about 25 miles north of downtown Atlanta. The team spent the night in a hotel. Today, the Wildcats plan to sleep late, do a walkthrough in the afternoon, eat a pre-game meal and get ready for the game.
North Cobb went 8-2 this season, and finished second in Region 4-6A, behind the perennially-strong McEachern Indians.
“They’ve got a good football team,” Gillespie said.
The Warriors have a potent spread offense that averaged 40 points per game in the regular season.
Dual threat quarterback Tyler Queen leads the Warriors’ attack. Queen has thrown for 1,802 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, with seven interceptions. He also leads the team with 671 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. He has completed 61 percent of his passes. Containing him will be a big challenge for the Wildcats tonight.
“The quarterback is kind of where it starts with them,” Gillespie said. “He’s the leading rusher and obviously the leading passer. He can hurt you either way.”
J’Vonte Herrod has rushed for 492 yards and six touchdowns, while Nick Miller has run for 434 yards and four touchdowns.
North Cobb’s leading receiver is Xavier Borishade, who has caught 32 passes for 627 yards and eight touchdowns. Miller has 38 catches for 467 yards and four touchdowns. Cameron Albright (15 receptions, 233 yards and four touchdowns) and Herrod (16 catches, 219 yards, one touchdown) also have over 200 yards receiving.
“They’ve got a couple of skill guys that are really good players,” Gillespie said. “(Borishade) is probably the one that sticks out the most. He’s had three kickoff returns for touchdowns, and scored several touchdowns for them.”
The Warriors use a 3-4 base defense.
“They don’t blitz a tremendous amount. But they move the front constantly,” Gillespie said. “They’re very athletic. The two (inside) linebackers run really well. (They are) athletic in the secondary. They have a solid kicking game, as you would expect coming out of that region.”
Valdosta running back Nelson Herring has rushed for 931 yards and nine touchdowns, while Malcolm Joseph has run for 806 yards and 14 touchdowns. Quarterback Shelby Wilkes has passed for 1,473 yards and 14 touchdowns, with only six interceptions. Joseph leads the team with 25 catches (for 231 yards), while Sherrod Inman, Alex Cason and tight end Taijuan Smith all have over 200 yards receiving. Smith has caught four touchdown passes in the past two weeks.
What will Valdosta have to do to win tonight?
“I think it’s really important to go up (there) and get off to a quick start against this group,” Gillespie said. “In the playoffs, it’s always important that you play by the rules of football — you don’t turn the ball over, you don’t help them by making mistakes. We have to do a good job containing the quarterback. We have to do a good job of limiting his yards in the run game. We can’t let them have big plays against us defensively. On our side of the ball, we’ve got to establish the run, and we have to go and make two or three big plays in the passing game.”
“We’ve got a really good opponent. This time of year just demands that you be at your best every Friday,” Valdosta’s coach added.
Directions to North Cobb High School: Take Interstate 75 north through Atlanta. Take Exit 267B and merge onto Canton Road Connector NE and take the U.S. 41 ramp. Go 0.5 miles, then turn right onto the North Cobb Parkway NE, which is also U.S. 41. Go 6.9 miles, then turn right onto Blue Springs Road NW. Go 0.7 miles, then turn right onto Old U.S. 41 NW. The school is on your left. The stadium is behind the school.