Samuel D. Logan
The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valdosta Wildcats took the field Friday night looking for a victory. They came away with a great one.
With a final score of 28 to 24, the Wildcats played a tough game from start to finish.
The Thomas County Central Yellow Jackets came into the game already with a win under their belts to begin the season.
The defense was stout, covering the option well and limiting the amount of big plays the Yellow Jackets made on offense.
“Coming into the game, we knew we had to be a disciplined team. Sometimes they would sit there, and hurt us for five and six yards at a time, and some could get impatient or leave his assignment to make a tackle, and we did not do that. We stayed with our assignments and did a good job containing the ball,” said Wildcat Head Coach Rance Gillespie.
“They have a quality football team with quality players.”
“We didn’t miss many tackles, played good assignment football, and we tackled well. We did pretty much what we said we had to do,” said Gillespie.
On offense, the Wildcats racked up close to 300 yards on the ground alone, a huge improvement from a dismal scrimmage that barely saw the Wildcats get 40 yards.
“We are excited about these two running backs. There are 11 guys out on the field and they all played a part. They’re special players. I am proud that no one quit, ducked their head, but stuck in the game and lined up for each snap until the game ended. I am pleased about that,” said Gillespie.
Malcolm Joseph had a couple of huge runs, and combined for 61 yards on the ground. Joseph also ran a 99-yard kick return for a score in the game.
“I felt real good about the return. We practice on it everyday, so when I saw the hole, I hit it like the coach told me, and it was there, so I went for the touchdown,” said senior running back Malcolm Joseph.
Senior running back Nelson Herring was electric, rushing for a total of 223 yards on the ground. Breaking off two long runs, one of 91 yards and another of 80 yards, Herring torched the opposing defense on only seven carries.
“Rushing for that much felt real good, but I couldn’t have done it without my offensive line. I just want to keep better,” said Herring.
The quarterback play was not a huge factor, with the Wildcats only passing the ball six times between their two quarterbacks.
“We have a long way to go obviously before we get where we want to be. We will enjoy this win tonight, and the coaching staff will take a look at some things, and be ready for practice next week, preparing for a good Brooks County team,” said Gillespie.
With senior quarterback Mac Loudermilk getting the start, the Wildcats milked the clock on their first drive for over seven minutes, only to come away with no points.
The first play of the game, Loudermilk took the snap, which was a little high, and fumbled the ball. Loudermilk recovered the fumble and advanced the ball a yard. On their first third down, running back Malcolm Joseph took off for a eight-yard gain for a first down. As the drive continued, Loudermilk threw his first pass to receiver Ricco Ramsey for a short three-yard gain. On the ensuing third down, the pocket collapsed and Loudermilk was forced to take off. Loudermilk did not convert the first down, but was helped out by a 15-yard facemask penalty.
Continuing to run a little Wildcat football, filled with receiver reverse runs by Alex Cason and a little triple option, the Wildcats were able to move into scoring range. Running back Malcolm Joseph broke a big run to put the Wildcats in the red zone and after going three and out, the Wildcats brought out junior kicker Brennan Goodson, who missed the chip shot field goal.
The Thomas County Central Yellow Jackets began their first drive with a little under six minutes left in the first quarter.
Senior quarterback Adam Choice, who commited to Clemson earlier this year, marched on the field ready to command his offense. He did just that.
On their first drive, Choice effectively moved the ball, running the team's patented triple-option offense. Running four times in a row, Choice moved the ball against a stubborn Wildcat defense led by defense tackle Darrius Sapp. After a chop block penalty against Thomas County Central, Choice procceded to throw his first pass of the game on a long third down, which was broken up by Wildcat junior Tre Barrett.
The ensuing punt by the Yellow Jackets was fumbled by the Wildcats and recovered within the 20-yard line by the Yellow Jackets. The Yellow Jackets proceeded to take one more snap before the first quarter came to a close.
After only having the ball once in the first quarter, the Wildcats came out in the second on defense. After a drive by the Yellow Jackets was stopped by a third-down tackle from lineman Darrius Sapp, the Wildcats received the ball for their second drive.
On the drive, quarterback Mac Loudermilk proceeded to throw an interception to Yellow Jacket senior Malcolm McClenton.
Within the next minute and 30 seconds, the Yellow Jackets proceeded to score twice, with a field goal from the Loudermilk turnover and an electric run by Adam Choice for a 21-yard touchdown.
Leading by 10, the Yellow Jackets defense took the field to try to hold the Wildcat offense to a three and out. They had little success.
On a handoff to running back Nelson Herring, the Wildcats scored their first points of the game. Herring burst through the line and ran for 40-plus yards to secure six points for the Wildcats.
With the score 10 to 7, Yellow Jackets, they took the field with a more aggressive approach, mixing up passes and rushing plays to catch the Wildcat defense off guard. On a third down, Choice dropped back to throw long and was almost intercepted by sophomore defensive back Rashay March.
With quarterback Craig Barry in the game for Mac Loudermilk under center, Loudermilk proceeded to play his regular position at tight end.
A few plays later, the Wildcats punted the ball to the Yellow Jackets.
Adam Choice took the next snap and fumbled the ball and it was recovered by junior linebacker Terrell Roundtree of the Wildcats.
Not being able to score after the turnover, the Wildcats traded a few possessions with the Yellow Jackets as the clock rolled to zero and the teams retreated to the locker room for halftime.
With Thomas County Central receiving the ball after the half, quarterback Adam Choice fumbled a pitch and the Yellow Jackets were forced to punt.
On the punt, however, the Wildcats muffed the ball, and the Yellow Jackets recovered the lost ball.
On the ensuring TCC drive, Adam Choice lost the ball once more and the ball was recovered once again by the Wildcats. Unable to add points to the board, the Wildcats had to punt again.
With the ball on the Wildcat 30-yard line, senior running back Shaquille Coleman ran in a touchdown, blazing past the Wildcat linebackers and secondary for the score.
Seconds later when the Wildcats got the ball, running back Malcolm Joseph took off for an amazing 99-yard touchdown run on the kickoff, making the score TCC 17, VHS 14.
After a touchdown run by Adam Choice, the score became 24 to 14, with Thomas County Central on top.
With a drive depending heavily on rushing, the Wildcats moved the ball in chunks, thanks to long runs by quarterback Mac Loudermilk and running backs Nelson Herring and Malcolm Joseph. Joseph capped the drive off with a one-yard touchdown run from the goal line, making the score 24 to 21, Thomas County Central leading.
On the next drive, the Wildcat defense played flawlessly, making a third-down tackle of quarterback Adam Choice short of the first down.
With five minutes left in the game, running back Nelson Herring blew up the Yellow Jacket defense for a 91-yard touchdown score, making the game now 28 to 24, Wildcats.
With one final possession to go, the Yellow Jackets took the field hoping to score a game-winning touchdown. Beginning their drive with a little under five minutes left, the Yellow Jacket team varied their playbook, running the ball and passing for completions as they drove down the field. On third down, junior defensive back Joshua Norwood made a first-down saving pass deflection, forcing the Yellow Jackets to try a long fourth and 15. With the game on the line, quarterback Adam Choice lobbed a pass in the air and missed his target for a turnover on downs.
The Wildcats took a knee, and the victory.
The Wildcats will face off against the Brooks County Trojans next Friday night at 8 p.m. on Cleveland Field at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.