VALDOSTA -- Three weeks ago, Valdosta High had a three-game losing streak, had lost its first two region games, and sat tied for last place in Region 1-AAAAA.

Now they're one win away from finishing the regular season in second place.

Valdosta (5-4, 2-2 region) ends its regular season with a trip to longtime rival Colquitt County at 8 p.m. Friday. The winner takes second, while the loser will finish either third or fourth.

"We want to win Friday night and finish second, and then host a playoff game," Valdosta head coach Rick Darlington said.

So what has changed, allowing the Wildcats to end a losing streak and win its last two games by an average of 24 points (17-0 over Houston County and 41-10 over Coffee)? Start with the defense.

"I think the defense has helped us, by being simple and aggressive. They've set the tone for everything," Darlington said. "They've gotten us great field position, they've gotten us turnovers, they've gotten us points. The last two games, the defense has scored a touchdown (Antonio Tillman against Houston and James Neal against Coffee, both on interceptions). The defense has played a big part.

"The offense is getting better. We've still got to cut out the mistakes and turnovers. We've still got room to grow. We still haven't played a complete game on offense. But they're getting better, and hopefully will continue getting better."

"We've got some good young men on this team," Darlington continued. "I like the feel on this team right now. These kids care about each other. They're practicing hard. They're confident. We're starting to gain steam at the right time."

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As he sat in a chair outside the Jardine Stadium locker room Friday night in Douglas, one thing Darlington mentioned was how tough Region 1-AAAAA was.

"This region's tough. That's what you find out up here," Darlington said. "I used to care about yards and all that stuff, but not any more. I just want to win. In this region, it's tough to move the ball and score points and get yards on people. In this region, you've got to win with field position and defense. There's just no other way. The teams are just too tough here."

This after his team's 31-point win over Coffee.

Lowndes is easily the class of the region this year. The Vikings, 9-0 and still No. 2 in the state, could wind up being state champions. But the other five region teams have taken turns beating each other. Coffee beat Tift County, who won big against Valdosta, who won big against Coffee. Houston County beat Colquitt and Coffee but lost to Valdosta and Lowndes.

No matter what happens Friday night, the second-place team will be 3-2 in the region. At least one team will make the playoffs at 2-3, and in several possible scenarios, two could.

Valdosta has clinched a playoff spot, whether the 'Cats win or lose Friday, as have Lowndes and Colquitt. But all Valdosta has clinched is the fourth seed, and the region's No. 4 team will probably have to start the playoffs at Camden County -- the defending state champions, the No. 1 team in AAAAA and the No. 9 team in the nation. That's not what they want. That's not what any team wants.

The Wildcats want the No. 2 seed, which will guarantee them a first-round game against the third seed from Region 3-AAAAA. At home. If they win Friday night, that No. 2 seed is theirs.

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