VALDOSTA -- There were times in the past year Lowndes head coach Randy McPherson would have Winnersville 2003 pop up in his mind.

It's hard to forget for Lowndes' entire program, but only a win can right what went wrong almost a year ago at Martin Stadium.

For most of the community, it's the annual Winnersville Classic between Lowndes and Valdosta today at 8 p.m. inside renovated Bazemore-Hyder Stadium, but for the Vikings, it's a shot at sweet redemption.

"Been waiting on it all year," McPherson said. "We've all thought about this one for a long time."

After last year's 28-26 loss to Valdosta at Martin Stadium, the Vikings have spent a year dealing with the cold hard fact they lost a game they could have won.

"I felt like we had a good team last year," McPherson said. "I felt like they had a good team last year. They came together and they made the plays. We came up a little short. You've probably got 10 plays in (last year's) game that you can say, 'If we'd have done this we'd have won the game.' Ifs don't win."

None of the Vikings' 14 seniors were on the field the last time Lowndes beat Valdosta in 2001, a 23-10 win. Valdosta holds a 33-9 advantage in the 36-year history of the rivalry, while Lowndes has won only two games at Valdosta's legendary Cleveland Field, which is now covered with Sprinturf.

McPherson, who's 0-2 in the Winnersville Classic since coming to Lowndes in 2002, looks to join Milt Miller and Joe Wilson as the only two Vikings coaches to beat Valdosta. Last year, Lowndes was 5-1 coming into Winnersville, Valdosta 3-3. This season Lowndes holds a 6-0 record, ranked No. 2 in Class AAAAA, while Valdosta is again 3-3, reeling from two straight losses.

"Like the old cliche goes, you can throw the records out," said Wilson, who has beaten Valdosta more times (five) than any other Vikings coach.

The Wildcats used last season's win over Lowndes to propel themselves to the state title game, which they lost to Camden County. The Vikings hope they can do the same tonight when Lowndes and Valdosta meet at sold out Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.

While Winnersville carries plenty of weight in Valdosta, McPherson doesn't see tonight's game as the Vikings' only must-win of the season.

"We'd like to win all our games, but of course we'd like to beat Valdsota bad," McPherson said. "All the region games are must-win."

For the first time this season the Vikings will be outside of the friendly confines of the Martin Stadium. The transition to a packed house at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium will be a tough one, but McPherson believes the Vikings will handle it well.

"Our kids are used to playing in that situation," McPherson said. "Our plan is to play better, play hard and play smart. If we do that we've got a shot at winning the game. That's the bottom line."

The game is sold out and even McPherson had a tough time getting his closest of kin into the game.

"It was all I could do to get my kids tickets," McPherson said.

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