The Valdosta Daily Times
Valdosta scored 31 points in the second half, and pulled away for a 41-24 victory over Brunswick on Friday night at Glynn County Stadium.
It was the third win in a row for the Wildcats (6-3), and kept them tied for third in the Region 1-6A football standings at 3-2, with one game left to play.
"(This win) put us one step closer to a playoff berth," Valdosta head coach Rance Gillespie said.
Nelson Herring rushed for 172 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries for the Wildcats, and quarterback Shelby Wilkes threw three touchdown passes to tight end Taijuan Smith.
Friday's victory didn't come easily for Valdosta. The Wildcats struggled somewhat in the first half, managing just 70 yards of total offense, and the score was tied 10-10 when the two teams headed to the locker room at halftime.
"We didn't play to our level of expectation in the first half. (But I was) pleased that we came out, played better in the second half, took control of the football game and won the game," Gillespie said.
It took just one play for the Wildcats to regain the lead in the second half.
Brunswick kicked off to start the third quarter, and its kickoff went out of bounds, giving Valdosta the ball at its own 35-yard line. On the next play, Herring took the handoff, and the offensive line opened up a big hole in the middle of the line. Herring shot through the line, broke into the open and raced 65 yards untouched down the middle of the field for a touchdown.
That touchdown gave the Wildcats a 17-10 lead, and they would not relinquish the lead again.
"I thought the run at the start of the second half really set the tone for everybody. Everything just got better (after that)," Gillespie said. "I was really proud of (Nelson). Malcolm (Joseph) has been a little banged up, and (Nelson) kind of knew that he was going to have to be the guy. He kind of said, 'That's good Coach. Give it to me, and I can handle this.'"
Valdosta's defense forced Brunswick to go four-and-out on the ensuing drive, then the Wildcats' offense took over at their own 38. Initially, the Pirates drove the Wildcats backwards, thanks to a sack and a false start penalty, and Valdosta lined up to punt on fourth-and-21. But the punt snap was high, and punter Mac Loudermilk had to jump to catch it. Loudermilk looked downfield and saw a lot of room to run near the VHS sideline, so he took off running. Loudermilk dashed 28 yards, then ran over a defender at the end of the play. The run gave the Wildcats a first down at the Brunswick 45.
Five plays later, the Wildcats faced third-and-13 at the Pirate 36. Wilkes took the snap, and fired deep. Smith hauled in the pass inside the 10 and kept running. A defender grabbed Smith around the 3-yard line, but Smith carried the defender across the goal line for the touchdown. Brennan Goodson's extra point extended Valdosta's lead to 24-10.
The Pirates came right back. driving 67 yards in 10 plays. Brunswick quarterback Cory Dixon moved the Pirates down the field with a 28-yard completion to Robert Baker and passes of 11 yards to John Perry and nine yards to Chris Trimmings, then had a 9-yard run on third-and-3 that moved the ball down to the 1-yard line. Justin Clark ran the ball in on the next play, and Trimmings threw a two-point conversion pass to Dixon, cutting the Wildcats' lead down to six, 24-18, late in the third quarter.
Valdosta responded with a long 11-play drive. The Wildcats had been running the ball effectively in the second half, so Gillespie told them to keep running the ball. Herring carried the ball six times and Joseph had five carries on the drive, and Valdosta moved the ball down to the 2. But a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moved the 'Cats back to the 17, and the drive would up stalling at the 15. But Goodson split the uprights with a 32-yard field goal, which gave Valdosta a 27-18 lead.
The Pirates answered again, going 83 yards in 10 plays. Dixon moved the chains twice with passes and once more with an 18-yard run. Then on second-and-6 from the Wildcat 19, he faked a handoff, found a hole and dashed 19 yards into the end zone to cut Valdosta's lead to 27-24.
Six plays later, Valdosta faced third-and-17 at its own 41. If the Pirates could stop the Wildcats, they would get the ball back with a chance to take the lead. Instead, Valdosta came up with one of the biggest plays of the game.
After Wilkes took the snap, Smith quietly slipped through the Pirates' defense, and was the only player more than 10 yards away from the line of scrimmage. Wilkes spotted him all alone, and the senior tight end hauled in the pass and took off running. He ran down the field and into the end zone for the touchdown, giving Valdosta a 34-24 lead with 4:39 left in the game.
Brunswick turned the ball over on downs, then Valdosta put the game away with one last touchdown. On fourth-and-5 from the Pirates' 10, Wilkes once again found Smith wide open, and Smith crossed the goal line again with 2:06 left to play to make the final score 41-24.
Smith finished the game with four catches for 112 yards and three touchdowns.
"Taijuan stepped up and caught three touchdown passes, and had a real big game for us," Gillespie said.
In the opening minutes of the game, Valdosta struck first, driving for a touchdown on its second possession. Wilkes hit Alex Cason for 12 yards and Loudermilk for 12 more yards, and Herring had a 13-yard run, which helped move the ball to the Brunswick 7. On first-and-goal from the 7, Herring went around left end, and sprinted across the goal line to give his team a 7-0 lead.
On their next possession, the Wildcats drove into the red zone again, and Goodson kicked a 36-yard field goal, making it 10-0.
With 4:41 left in the first half, Brunswick sacked Wilkes in the end zone for a safety, making it 10-2. Then the Pirates got the ball and drove 65 yards for a score. Clark finished the drive with a three-yard touchdown run. Then Dixon threw a two-point conversion pass to Trimmings, which tied the score at 10-10.
But the Wildcats quickly regained the lead in the third quarter, and held it the rest of the game.
Wilkes threw for 143 yards and three touchdowns. Joseph gained 50 yards on 15 carries.
Dixon was Brunswick's offensive star, rushing for 109 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries and passing for 181 yards.
Valdosta will travel to Coffee next Friday.