The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valdosta Wildcats needed a win to make the playoffs. They got that win — in dominant fashion.
Valdosta's football team hammered Coffee on Friday night, winning 44-8 at Jardine Stadium.
The Wildcats looked like a well-oiled machine in Friday's victory. They scored the first 44 points of the game. They got touchdowns on their first five possessions. They moved the ball effectively on the ground and through the air. Their defense shut out Coffee until the game was well out of reach. They excelled in pretty much every phase of the game.
"We played really, really well, on both sides of the ball," Valdosta head coach Rance Gillespie said. "We played with a sense of urgency. We played like we understood what's at stake, and we played with some excitement and some enthusiasm. I thought we came out ready to play."
The Wildcats (7-3, 4-2 in the region) wrapped up third place in Region 1-6A with the win. If they had lost to Coffee (5-5, 2-4 in the region), they would have missed the playoffs. Instead, they will head to metro Atlanta next week to face North Cobb, the No. 2 seed from Region 4-6A.
"In this region, it's real nice (to be going to the playoffs), because there are some good football teams," Gillespie said. "To be able to (make it) into the playoffs, we're extremely excited about that, because it's a really competitive region, week in and week out. Now we've got to be at our best another week, and that's all that we can do."
Gillespie's team was certainly at its best — or very close to it — on Friday.
Friday's game wasn't in doubt for very long. The Wildcats put the game away with touchdowns on their first five possessions, building a 34-0 first-half lead. The outcome was pretty much decided by the time they headed to the locker room at halftime.
"We came out, we made a couple of plays and got things rolling, and it just kind of snowballed for us," Gillespie said.
After forcing Coffee to go three-and-out and punt on the opening possession, Valdosta took over at its 41-yard line. Three straight Nelson Herring runs moved the Wildcats into Trojans territory. Then, facing third-and-5 at the Coffee 41, quarterback Shelby Wilkes threw a short pass to tight end Taijuan Smith. Smith caught the ball near the 35, shoved a defender out of the way and saw nothing between himself and the goal line. He ran down the field and into the end zone for the touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 7-0 lead.
After another three-and-out by Coffee, Valdosta took over at its 39, and drove 61 yards in 10 plays. Herring's 21-yard run moved the ball to the Coffee 30, and Malcolm Joseph's 5-yard run on fourth-and-1 at the 21 prolonged the drive. A 12-yard run by Herring gave the Wildcats first-and-goal at the 1, and Herring ran the ball into the end zone on the next play. Brennan Goodson's extra point gave the Wildcats a 14-0 lead.
On the ensuing drive, Coffee faced fourth-and-8 at the Valdosta 46, and opted to go for it. But Keegan McGovern's pass fell incomplete, and the Wildcats took over on downs, then drove for another touchdown.
Wilkes' 28-yard pass to Sherrod Inman moved the ball to the Coffee 22. Two penalties helped drive the Wildcats back to the 33, and they faced fourth-and-21, but then Yardley Payne hauled in a 32-yard pass from Wilkes, down to the 1. On the next play, Joseph took the handoff, went left and outran a defender to the goal line for the touchdown, making it 21-0 early in the second quarter.
Then Valdosta recovered a fumble at the Coffee 29, putting the Wildcats in position to score again. Three straight runs by Herring moved the ball to the 5. Then Valdosta's offensive line opened up a huge hole, and Joseph ran right through it and into the end zone, giving the Wildcats a 27-0 lead.
Valdosta free safety Clarence Smith ended Coffee's next drive when he picked off a pass at the VHS 20. Two plays later, Wilkes fired deep. Bradley Felkel jumped and caught the pass near midfield, then the defender who was covering him went down and the senior wide receiver sprinted down the field and into the end zone for an 85-yard touchdown reception, extending the Wildcats' lead to 34-0.
Coffee responded with its best drive of the first half, driving from its own 33 to the Valdosta 3 in the final minute of the first half. But the Trojans turned the ball over on downs, and the Wildcats headed to the locker room with a 34-0 lead.
After they returned to the field to start the second half, it only took 13 seconds for the Wildcats to put seven more points on the scoreboard. Inman caught the second half kickoff at his own 9, then took off running, got some blocks in front of him and broke into the open. The senior wide receiver raced 91 yards for a touchdown, and that gave Valdosta a 41-0 lead.
Because they trailed by more than 30 points, the Trojans had the option to have the second half played with a running clock, and they opted to do so.
On the third play of Coffee's first possession of the second half, Clarence Smith picked off another pass and returned it to the Trojans' 9. That led to a 25-yard field goal by Goodson, which extended Valdosta's lead to 44-0 with 6:07 left in the third quarter.
Coffee got on the board on its next possession. George Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff to the Valdosta 41, then broke off a 27-yard run on the next play, moving the Trojans to the VHS 14. Four plays later, on fourth-and-2 at the 6, McGovern found Raquan Ross in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. After a penalty on Valdosta, Johnson ran for the two-point conversion, making it 44-8.
Shortly after that, with the outcome long since decided, Gillespie put in his reserves and let them play the fourth quarter.
Wilkes completed 5 of 10 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns. His five completions went to five different receivers, and he did not attempt a pass in the second half.
Herring rushed for 82 yards on 12 carries, and scored a touchdown. Joseph gained 59 yards on 10 carries and scored two touchdowns.
Coffee's leading rusher was Orlando Ingram, who ran for 73 yards on seven carries. McGovern completed 5 for 11 passes for 41 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions.