The Valdosta Daily Times
On Friday night, the Valdosta Wildcats (5-2, 1-2 in region play) returned to their winning ways, picking up their first region win of the 2013 season after defeating the Tift County Blue Devils by a score of 31-21.
After taking care of business against Tift County (4-4, 1-3 in region play), Valdosta remains undefeated at home (5-0).
“(Tift County) is a great football team,” Valdosta head coach Rance Gillespie said. “They’re doing a terrific job up there (in Tifton). Our kids made the plays they had to make and I’m proud of them.”
Friday night’s win also extended the Wildcats' home winning streak to eight. Their last home loss came in the 2012 Winnersville Classic, when the Lowndes High Vikings handed them a nailbiting 17-14 defeat.
In front of the “black and gold” faithful, the Wildcats put on a show, amassing nearly 400 yards of total offense.
While Valdosta pulled out a much-needed win, the early stages of the game left a great deal of doubt in the Wildcats’ chances.
On the Blue Devils’ first possession of the game, an 11-play, 91-yard drive was capped off with a 10-yard touchdown on a keeper by quarterback Ryan Wedgeworth and gave Tift County an early 7-0 lead.
Early in the second quarter, a toss from Wedgeworth found its way into the hands of Blue Devils’ Malik Henry, who pushed Tift County’s lead to 14-0 with a 14-yard touchdown run up the left sideline.
Penalties played a major role in the contest, as the Wildcats racked up over 100 yards due to flags, including 45 yards on one key Tift County drive.
“We’ve got to be more disciplined,” Gillespie said. “One of (Tift County’s) drives, we added 45 yards in penalties to it. We can’t give a good football team half a field to work with."
While the Wildcats were down, they were far from out.?
The offensive effort was commanded by sophomore quarterback Seth Shuman, who connected on 11 of 22 pass attempts for 228 yards and two touchdowns.?
"(Shuman) is continuing to grow and get better each and every week,” Gillespie said. “He’s getting much better at throwing the ball.”
After a big stop on third and one by senior defensive lineman Darrius Sapp, Shuman connected on a pass to junior wide receiver Ricco Ramsey that turned into a crowd-erupting 60-yard touchdown. The tremendous play brought Valdosta to within seven.
After the Wildcats recovered a Tift County fumble near midfield, a half-closing field goal shortened Valdosta’s deficit to only four.
The second half saw the Wildcats capitalizing on the momentum they carried to the locker room. After a Tift County fumble was recovered by sophomore defensive back Rashay March, Shuman went to work once more. The end result of the drive was a sensational 94-yard touchdown reception by senior wide receiver Alex Cason.
Big plays continued to highlight an impressive second half for the Wildcats. A bone-jarring hit on Blue Devils’ Malik Henry by junior defensive back Tre Barrett set the tone for the offense to pick up right where they left off.
Leading 17-14, an early outburst by Wildcats’ senior running back Malcolm Joseph turned into a 44-yard touchdown that gave Valdosta a 24-14 edge.
The defense effectively ended any chance of a Tift County comeback with 1:26 remaining in the game when, after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on third and the Wildcats’ Darrius Sapp dropped the Blue Devils’ Ryan Wedgeworth for a loss on fourth and 17.
Senior Valdosta running back Nelson Herring added 81 yards on 10 rushing attempts. He also caught one pass for six yards.
Joseph contributed 94 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries.
Ricco Ramsey finished the game with four receptions totaling 92 yards and one touchdown.
Junior defensive lineman Dantrel Mark went down in the second half with an unspecified injury and was immediately taken to the locker room.
“We’re going to have to evaluate him over the weekend,” Gillespie said. “We’ll know more on Monday.”
Valdosta will see their next action when they travel to face another conference rival, the Packers of Colquitt County, Moultrie, on Oct. 25.
"This is a good region,” Gillespie said. “Really, it’s better than ‘good’. We just have to make sure we’re prepared. We have to leave the field with a win and not just film to study.”