The Valdosta Daily Times
The Lowndes Vikings are anxious to get back onto the football field. After a week off to reflect on their loss to then-top-ranked Camden County and to prepare for the playoffs, the Vikings will kickoff the Class 6A state playoffs by hosting the Marietta Blue Devils tonight at Martin Stadium.
Lowndes secured the second-seed out of Region 1, while Marietta finished third in Region 4. The two teams have never met before.
“We got Marietta here at home and we are going to go out there and do our best,” said Lowndes head coach Randy McPherson, who has posted a 22-6 playoff record and has won three state championships since taking over the Viking program in 2002.
Tonight will mark Lowndes’ first home playoff game since 2010, when Collins Hill upset the favored Vikings 31-28 in the state quarterfinals. That overtime loss to the Eagles is Lowndes’ only home playoff loss under McPherson, who has 17 home wins in the postseason.
When asked about the impressive home playoff record, McPherson downplayed it while laughing.
“It isn’t my record; I didn’t play,” McPherson said. “It is a team deal.”
The winner of tonight’s game will likely visit undefeated Lovejoy in the second round next Friday in Atlanta. Lovejoy hosts Tri-Cities tonight. Lowndes last met Lovejoy in the first round of the 2002 playoffs, losing 43-3.
“I haven’t really studied (the brackets),” McPherson said. “I do know that if you want to win it all, you are going to have to beat (the good teams) sooner or later.”
One luxury the Vikings had with their bye week at the end of the regular season was the ability to rest up and get players healthy for a possible deep playoff run. The time off seemed to help as All-State safety Tiquan Lang and senior running back Nick Burgman, who leads the Vikings in rushing and receiving and is tied in scoring, are both expected to return this week, pending no major setbacks in practice.
“They are getting better,” McPherson said Monday. “The trainer said they are going to be ready.”
Lang last played against the Coffee Trojans Oct. 19 when he scored five total touchdowns to lead the Vikings to a 31-29 victory. He has had plenty of time to heal his sprained ankle he suffered at practice the week of the Tift County game.
Burgman injured his hamstring in the game against Tift County and did not dress against Camden County Nov. 2.
On the season, Lang has 28 tackles and leads the team with four interceptions. He also has 263 yards rushing with five touchdowns, along with two special teams touchdowns. Burgman leads the Vikings with 761 yards rushing and is tied with sophomore Ahman Brown with nine rushing touchdowns. He also leads the team in receiving with nine catches for 145 yards with a pair of scores.
While the Vikings’ offense has struggled in marquee games (they were held to 121 yards against Camden County), the defense has been dominant all year long. Lowndes enters the playoffs allowing just 11.9 points per game, which is fifth-best in the state among Class 6A teams.
Tonight, the Viking defense will have to be stellar again as it faces a Marietta offense that ranks eighth in scoring at 37.6 points per game. Last week, the Blue Devils scored 52 points against Harrison, securing the region’s third-seed and a trip to Martin Stadium.
The Blue Devils are led by quarterback Anthony Jennings. The 6-foot-2, 202 pound Jennings has 4.5 40-yard dash speed and is ranked as the fifth best high school quarterback in the nation, according to Rivals.com. Jennings is committed to play college football at Louisiana State University (LSU) next year.
Jennings has completed 140 of his 223 passes for 1,983 yards with 21 touchdowns and just six interceptions this season. He also leads the team in rushing with 608 yards with a team-high nine rushing touchdowns.
To help prepare for Jennings and the Blue Devil passing attack, the Vikings spent their bye week working on defending the pass, something that hurt them in the loss to Camden County.
“We worked a lot on our secondary coverage and blitzes and stuff like that, which is something we normally do anyways” McPherson said. “(We did it) just a little bit more last week.”
Tyree Harris is Marietta’s leading receiver. The 6-foot-2 receiver, who is committed to play at Division-I Wake Forest, has hauled in 40 passes for 736 yards with eight touchdowns. Jordan Mathis also has eight TD catches this season on 33 receptions for 450 yards.
“They have skill people everywhere on offense,” McPherson said. “And on defense, they’re solid. They are a real fine football team.”
Kickoff at Martin Stadium is set for 8 p.m. During the game, the Lowndes High Georgia Bridgemen will honor current and former military service men and women. Tickets for tonight’s game are $10, per GHSA pricing.