Valdosta Daily Times

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September 11, 2012

Vikings preparing for tougher competition

VALDOSTA — The Lowndes Vikings cruised past the Newton Rams last Friday night. Up next: the Windsor Forest Knights at Martin Stadium.

Although the Vikings are off to another 2-0 start, their fifth straight, they still have plenty to improve on, according to head coach Randy McPherson.

“We got the shutout. Obviously that was nice,” McPherson said. “I felt like we played hard, but we are still missing blocks. We’ve had a couple turnovers. There is plenty of room for improvement — everywhere.”

Friday’s 31-0 shutout win over Newton was Lowndes’ third shutout in its last five games, dating back to the end of the 2011 regular season. Despite the loss of All-State linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons, now a member of the University of Georgia football team, the Vikings’ defense seems to have picked up where it left off in 2011.

The key for Lowndes this season?  Depth and speed, not size, says McPherson.

“I really like the group we got on defense,” McPherson said. “I wish I had (the) number of kids that played (Friday night). We played a lot of kids. Those kids would have played regardless of what the score was or anything. We like them.”

“We are coming together on defense,” said McPherson in his postgame interview with The Times on Friday night. “I (said) early on, ‘We are a little bit small, but we have a lot of speed.’ They are getting tough. They like each other. We just have to keep improving each day.”

Lowndes’ win Friday was also the 35th win in the month of September under McPherson. The early season success has allowed the Vikings to pile on 108 all-time victories under McPherson, who took over the program from Milt Miller in 2002, including three state championships.

“If you want to know why we have success here, we got really good kids that want to represent the community,” McPherson said. “We have good assistant coaches. Lowndes is a good place.”

The Vikings aren’t done winning yet, either.

This Friday night, Windsor Forest, a Savannah-based school, will visit Martin Stadium. The meeting will be the first since the 2007 state playoffs, when the Vikings hammered the Knights, 50-0. The schools also met in the 2004 state playoffs, and Lowndes won 56-7. Lowndes went on to win the state championship in both years.

Lowndes’ final non-region game will feature the Hardaway Hawks visiting Martin Stadium. Last season, Hardaway was a dismal 1-9, and both of its wins this season are against opponents from smaller classifications who have a combined 0-4 record.

In fact, none of the Vikings’ first four games of the 2012 season brought the excitement that other teams had on their schedule. While Lowndes’ crosstown rival Valdosta traveled to metro Atlanta to face a tough North Augusta (S.C.) team, the Vikings beat up on the Luella Lions. Last week, the Wildcats were playing one of the best teams in Class AA, the Brooks County Trojans, while the Vikings hosted Newton.

A week before Lowndes started its season, Colquitt County and Camden County, both members of Region 1-AAAAAA, faced Gwinnett County powers North Gwinnett and Peachtree Ridge in the Corky Kell Kickoff Classic in the Georgia Dome.

Of Lowndes’ first four games to start this season, only Windsor Forest made the playoffs in its respective classification last season, and the four teams (Luella, Newton, Windsor Forest and Hardaway) combined for just a 17-23-1 record last year.

Teams like Valdosta, Colquitt County and Camden County chose tougher routes to start the season. Valdosta’s first two opponents (North Augusta and Brooks County) both made the playoffs last season. All three of Colquitt County’s opponents so far this season were playoff teams last season, including Lovejoy, whose only loss was a 22-7 defeat in the Class AAAA state championship game. Camden County’s first two opponents of the season — Peachtree Ridge and Ocala (Fla.) Vanguard — made the playoffs last year.

For the Vikings, the tougher competition will come when they open region play Sept. 28 against Colquitt County in Moultrie. Last season, the Packers beat the Vikings, 34-7.

The game in Moultrie will just be the start of what will be a tough stretch of games for Lowndes.

Of the teams the Vikings will face in region play (Colquitt County, Brunswick, Valdosta, Coffee, Tift County and Camden County), five made the Class 5A playoffs in 2011, including Colquitt County, who was just one defensive stop away from beating eventual state champion Grayson in the semifinals.

In order to handle the tougher competition, the Vikings will need to escape the next two games against obviously weaker competition without injury.

Linebacker Tre’ Jackson left Friday’s game against Newton and the extent of his injury isn’t known. Besides Jackson, McPherson said, “We are in good shape,” when describing the health of his team.

Health isn’t an issue for the Vikings at quarterback. Senior Alex Stephenson and junior Seth Carlo will continue to rotate as Lowndes experiments with the two-quarterback system through non-region play.

After being outperformed in the passing game through Lowndes’ preseason scrimmage and season opener, Stephenson was much improved Friday against Newton. The former Valdosta Wildcat completed 8 of 13 passes for 87 yards and added 12 yards on the ground.

Carlo was 0 for 2 passing and failed to record a rushing yard.

McPherson said both quarterbacks will play Friday, and that Lowndes coaches are focused on improving the team at every position.

“(Alex) had a very good game,” McPherson said. “I think we are still going to try and get everybody better. That is the goal. That position is no different.”

The Lowndes High Randy McPherson Coach’s Show airs Tuesday nights on 99.5 FM, with hosts Bill Osborne and Wes James. The broadcast begins at 7 p.m. and airs live from the Holiday Inn Express on West Hill Ave.

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