The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valwood Valiants are back in the state GISA Class AA state football semifinals for the third consecutive season. Unlike their first two attempts, the Valiants are hoping to win and advance to their first state championship game since 2006.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of talk about last year,” Valwood head coach Ashley Henderson said. “We live in the moment and we stress to play this year. I have heard some of them talk about how they’re not going to come up short this year. But we don’t need to focus on the past; we need to move on and look towards the future and get better every day and take it one game at a time.”
For Valwood to get past the semifinals and into the state championship game, it will take a win over the undefeated John Milledge Academy Trojans in tonight’s semifinal matchup. The winner will host either Brentwood or Westwood in the state championship game next Friday night.
The Valiants will head north to Milledgeville around lunch time today, arriving in town in the afternoon. From there, they’ll eat and hold a walk-through before kicking off at Trojan Field in Milledgeville at 7:30 p.m.
“We are keeping everything normal,” Henderson said. “We are going to leave just a little bit earlier to account for the black Friday traffic.”
Like Valwood, John Milledge enters tonight’s game with a perfect 12-0 record. And like the Valiants, the Trojans are blowing opposing teams out. In their 12 games this season, the Trojans are averaging 42 points per game, while allowing just 7 per game.
“They are as talented of a football team we have played this year,” Henderson said. “The only close game they’ve had this year they shut the team out. They have size, speed and skill all over the field.”
Although both teams have dominated competition this season, they’ve done it in completely different fashion, says Henderson.
“They run a completely different style of offense than what we run,” Henderson said. “They base their offense out of the I-formation. They want to run the football at you and knock you off the football and let their (offensive) and (defensive) lines dominate you. So while both of us are undefeated, we have done it in different ways.”
The Trojans beat Brookwood 30-6 in the first round of the playoffs and Memorial Day 41-0 in last week’s second round. Valwood has blown out its two playoff opponents, too. The Valiants beat Central Fellowship 41-0 in the first round and Trinity Christian 51-7 last week.
Tonight’s will mark the second all-time meeting between the two schools. In the first-ever meeting last year, Valwood won 41-35 in a shoot-out at Goddard Field in Valdosta.
“It is the same brand of football they played last year,” Henderson said. “Last year they wanted to play a physical brand of football and that is what they hang their hat on, and they do a good job at it. I think they are a different football team, though. They have aspects this year they didn’t have last year. They have weapons outside they didn’t have (Iast year).”
Both teams have powerful running games and can mix in effective passing games this season.
In last week’s win over Trinity Christian, senior Khary Paige rushed for 213 yards and five touchdowns to lead the Valiants to the victory. Paige has now rushed for 1,326 yards and 22 touchdowns in 11 games this season.
While Valwood has Paige, John Milledge has Cooper Morgan, who has rushed for 1,590 yards and has 25 touchdowns this season.
“He is a power guy. He makes the right cuts and he knows the offense and he knows where the gaps are,” Henderson said. “He is not he fastest running back we’ve played all year, but nobody has caught him from behind. He does a really nice job fitting behind their big fullback and finding the gaps.”
In the passing game, the Trojans are led by quarterback Brantley Attaway, who has completed 75 of 111 passes for 1,571 yards. Attaway’s favorite target is Chris Sealey, who has 39 receptions for 778 yards this season.
“The quarterback can sling it and they have a receiver that has good ball skills. (Sealey) can go up there and get it,” Henderson said.
Valwood will continue to work its two-quarterback system. Senior Tyler Williams made his first career start last week. Williams has completed 39 of 62 passes this season for 736 yards with eight touchdowns. Fellow senior Jake Lastinger has completed 60 of 119 passes for 870 yards with 12 touchdowns this season.
Tonight’s game can be heard on The Jock 1150 AM, 96.1 FM. Fans unable to make the trip can follow the game on Twitter by following at @Ed_Hooper or by visiting www.twitter.com/Ed_Hooper.
Directions to Trojan Field: Take 1-75 North to Macon and merge onto I-16 East/GA-404 E via Exit 165 toward Savannah. After 0.9 miles, take the US-23/US-129/GA-49/Spring Street exit, Exit 1A, toward Milledgeville. Turn left onto US-23/US-129/North Ave/GA-49/GA-11/GA-19. Continue to follow US-129/GA-49 for 1.1 miles. Turn right onto Shurling Drive/GA-49 and continue to follow for 27.2 miles. Then, turn left onto W. Bypass Road NW/US-441 North/Ga-29 N. Continue to follow for 2.9 miles. Turn left onto US-441/N Columbia St./GA-224 for 3.0 miles. Turn right onto Log Cabin Road NE. for 1.1 miles. John Milledge Academy is located at 197 Log Cabin Road NE in Milledgeville.