christian.malone@gaflnews.com



VALDOSTA -- The 1,000th Valdosta High football game ended the way most of the previous 999 did. With a win.

Barely.

Valdosta defeated Riverdale 7-0 in the first round of the AAAAA state playoffs Friday night at Cleveland Field.

The Wildcats (8-2-1) will travel to Kingsland next Friday to play Camden County, a 34-22 winner over Jonesboro.

The game was the 1,000th in Valdosta High football history. And it came down to an exciting finish. And wound up a shutout, the 370th in school history.

On the biggest play of the game, the Wildcat defense, much maligned after last week's loss to Coffee, showed everyone once again that it was one of the state's best.

"The defense played great," Valdosta head coach Mike O'Brien said. "We put them in a bind late, but they responded. They did a super job."

With less than two minutes to play, Riverdale (8-3) had fourth-and-3 from the Valdosta six-yard line. Riverdale tried to run the ball inside. Ballcarrier Roy Olasimbo was met by three Valdosta defenders, and taken down at the four. The chains came out, and the ball was short of the marker. Turnover on downs, Valdosta's ball.

From there, Valdosta ran out the clock.

A Wildcat offensive blunder had allowed Riverdale a shot at the score. With the ball at their own 45 following a Riverdale punt, Valdosta tried to run an option pitch, the same play it had scored on in the second quarter. But this time, quarterback Cedric Hatten's pitch eluded back Eric Williams.

Riverdale linebacker Antwan Carson picked up the loose ball, and seemed off to the races for a touchdown, except that behind him, another Raider clipped Williams. So instead of a touchdown, Riverdale got the ball at the VHS 23.

Valdosta drove the Raiders back to third-and-17 at the 30, when quarterback Jimmie Russell connected with Brandon Lane down to the 20. Then came the most controversial play of the game. Russell threw the ball up for Cedric Mason, who leaped, caught the ball, and was driven back by Valdosta cornerback Dewayne Williams. It appeared Mason caught the ball just inside the 15, more than a yard short of the first down, but the side judge spotted the ball at the 13, just enough for a first down. Valdosta coaches argued, but to no avail.

So the drive continued. Lane caught a second-down pass down to the 10, then Kelvin Colbert ran four yards to the six, setting up the final play.

It was an exciting end to a hard-fought ballgame that was dominated by the defenses.

"I can't say enough about what our defense did," O'Brien said. "And our special teams. Andy Dressel did a great job punting the ball. There wasn't a lot of offense."

Valdosta got its only touchdown early in the second quarter. Starting at the Riverdale 45, Valdosta drove 55 yards in 13 plays.

The Wildcats twice converted on third down, on a sneak by Hatten and a four-yard run by Willie Cowart. Then the 'Cats found themselves in fourth-and-5 at the 27. Hatten threw a flanker screen to Tavaris Motes, and Motes dashed around two blocks and into the open, 22 yards down to the five.

"Motes made a nice catch, and a couple of nice cuts

Three plays later, Hatten started left on the option, then pitched to Eric Williams, who crossed the goal line for the score. Brent Allen's extra point gave the Wildcats a 7-0 lead.

For the rest of the game, each team would try to drive the ball, but would be stopped. Early in the third, Valdosta drove to the RHS 38, but was forced to punt. At the start of the fourth, Riverdale got into Wildcat territory, but Lane was stopped in the backfield on third-and-1, and Riverdale was forced to punt.

Riverdale had also moved the ball into Valdosta territory on its first two drives in the first quarter, but were stopped both times.

No big mistakes had been made all game, until the fourth quarter pitch that nearly got Riverdale back in the game, and since the Raiders usually go for two, it could have cost Valdosta the game.

But it didn't, and that's all that mattered to the Wildcats.

"We're going to be practicing Mo





nday, and on Thanksgiving morning, and that's what we set out to do," O'Brien said.

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