Valdosta Daily Times

October 10, 2013

Winnersville Classic: Through the years

Staff Reports
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA —  The Valdosta-Lowndes rivalry goes back several decades; the series began in 1968, after the Lowndes County school system consolidated into one high school and the school was built on the plot of land it occupies today.

The Valdosta Wildcats have been a household name when it comes to high school football since the program’s inception 100 years ago, winning over 880 games and six national championships in that time.

Valdosta dominated the early part of the series, winning the first nine games by a combined score of 273-26.

The 1976 season brought the first glimpse of hope for the Vikings as they completed their first winning season at 8-2 under the direction of former Valdosta High assistant Joe Wilson, but Lowndes was still unable to beat Valdosta, dropping their ninth straight game, 14-3.

Lowndes High was finally able to break through in 1977, beating its crosstown rival for the first time ever.

After three more losses to the Wildcats, the Vikings reversed one of their regular season losses with a 6-0 win in the 1980 region playoffs, on their way to capturing their first state title in LHS history.

It was in 1981 that the series took on the identity that has defined it ever since.

 Behind the efforts of Johnny B. Lastinger and the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce, the game was renamed the Winnersville Classic.

The name was created by then Valdosta Daily Times sports editor Mike Chason, after the first class of inductees into the Valdosta-Lowndes County Sports Hall of Fame in 1977.

After four more losses to Valdosta, Lowndes made series history in 1985, by defeating Valdosta in both the regular season and region playoffs — the only time the Vikings have defeated Valdosta twice in one season.

But once again, Lowndes’ advantage over Valdosta wouldn’t last long. Valdosta began another long stretch of dominating the series.

The Wildcats won 11 straight Winnersville Classic games and two playoff games from 1986-1996, all under Nick Hyder — the winningest coach in the series.

That changed in 1997, when Lowndes High ended the streak with a 14-7 win.

After a Valdosta win in 1998, Lowndes did what no other Viking team had done before — won three-straight Classics under the direction of coach Milt Miller.

Valdosta ended the streak in 2002, Randy McPherson’s first season, beating Lowndes, 21-13 and tacked on another victory the next season.

The Vikings followed up those losses with the most successful stretch of Lowndes High history.

McPherson led the Vikings to a victory over the Wildcats in each of the next seven seasons, adding five region and three state championships along the way.

In each of the last two installments of the rivalry, the teams swapped victories in exciting fashion.

Valdosta broke Lowndes’ seven game win streak in the rivalry when they scored two touchdowns in under a minute to pull out a 21-17 victory.

The following year Lowndes returned the favor of a heartbreaking loss when Gustavo Gonzalez, playing his first season of football, hit a game winning field goal as time expired to hoist the Vikings to a win, 17-14.

This year’s Winnersville Classic is sure to be just one more chapter of Georgia high school sports’ greatest rivalry.