The Valdosta Daily Times
On Friday night, the Valwood Valiants proudly defended their home turf, edging out the Memorial Day Matadors in a thriller by a score of 13-12.
Valiant senior Carter Elliott left his mark all over the game. Two long-distance field goals, including a game-winner with only eight seconds remaining in regulation, helped seal the deal for the still-undefeated Valiants.
Valiants’ Head Coach Ashley Henderson thinks very highly of his team’s performance, especially that of his star kicker.
“Nobody stopped believing,” Henderson said. “The funny thing about it, leading up to the kick, (Carter) told me, ‘just get me inside the 30 (yard line). The boys did an excellent job of making that happen.”
Coming into the contest, Henderson made it clear that his team’s matchup against the Memorial Day Academy Matadors would be the first “true test” of the season.
If that is the case, the Valiants passed with flying colors.
“(Memorial Day) lives on big plays,” Henderson said. “We did an awesome job preventing them from breaking out.”
The first quarter was a defensive show for the defending champions. An early sack by junior defensive lineman Anthony Folkerts and strong play by senior linebacker Reggie Robinson headlined an awesome quarter for the Valiants.
While Valwood played a great defensive game, one key stop from Valiant senior defensive back Char Merine sent the Goddard Field fans into an uproar.
On the Matadors’ first drive of the game, senior quarterback Earl Washington connected on a short pass to standout senior receiver Deric Wright. No sooner than Wright caught the pass and turned around, he was greeted with a devastating tackle by Merine.
Merine’s hit proved to be quite a wakeup call to the opposition. After the play, an officials’ timeout was called while Wright was tended to on the field. After being helped to the Matadors’ sideline, Wright eventually removed his helmet and pads and did not return for the remainder of the game.
“I saw the pass and all I could think was ‘get downfield’,” Merine said. “I just had to make that stop. It felt great.”
The Valiants only had one offensive possession in the first quarter. One possession is all they needed.
On Valwood’s first play of the game, a lateral from Seth Carlo turned into a 55-yard touchdown pass from Carter Elliott to Merine.
“We actually decided Sunday that we would use that as our first play of the game,” Henderson said. “We knew all along what we were coming out with.”
n the second quarter, after a 60-yard punt return by Matadors’ senior Marlin Latson was cut short due to a penalty, Memorial Day Academy capitalized on their field position with a touchdown pass from Washington to senior running back Malcolm Quarterman.
A failed two-point conversion left Valwood with a 7-6 lead heading into the half.
A huge 20-yard run by junior Zane Edmondson on the first play of the second half opened the door for the Valiants. After a 44-yard field goal by Elliott in the third quarter the Valiants were sitting on a 10-6 lead.
Immediately following the field goal, Elliott came up with a big tackle on the Matadors’ Kendarius Dukes on the ensuing kickoff. Without Elliott’s save, Dukes could have taken the left sideline to the end zone.
Valwood’s defense stepped up once again as the Matadors tried to score in their own red zone. After a big stop by Folkerts on second down, a goal-line stop by senior defensive back Garrett Lovell forced Memorial Day to punt.
The Matadors did not wait long to remedy their previous mistakes with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Washington to Marlin Latson on fourth and goal. After a two-point conversion attempt was disrupted by a Marik Merine interception, the Matadors took a 12-10 lead into the fourth quarter.
After another impressive defensive showing, a Memorial Day punt left the Valiants with one final opportunity. Beginning on their own 34-yard line, Valwood was left with one minute and twenty seconds to pull out a miracle.
Valwood was able to push the ball downfield, and a subsequent face-mask penalty by the Matadors placed the Valiants at Memorial Day’s 32-yard line.
After three failed attempts to move the ball, Elliott stepped onto the field with one attempt to win the game for the home team. The end result was a 42-yard field goal that sailed over the right side of the upright bar.
“I was nervous, very nervous,” Elliott said. “The earlier (44-yard) kick helped ease me up a little, but I’ve never been in a game-winning situation like that before. I’m just glad I was able to bring it home for us.”
On Memorial Day’s final possession, an interception by Valiant senior Kyle Wilkes on a final pass attempt by the Matadors capped an amazing late-game comeback for Valwood.
Valiant Seth Carlo completed 9 of 15 passes for 94 yards. Junior Marik Merine added 39 yards on four rushing attempts.
The Valiants (3-0) have a week off before their next contest, a home matchup against the Cavaliers of Mount de Sales Academy (Macon, Ga.) on Sept. 27.