After impressive win over Tift, 'Cats face Eagles on short notice

Shane Thomas | The Valdosta Daily TimesValdosta linebacker Antoine Scott (6) reacts after recovering a fumble in the first half against Tift County on Aug. 30 at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.

VALDOSTA –– A week after its most impressive win of the young season, No. 2 Valdosta High (2-0) looks to keep rolling tonight against the Columbia Eagles (1-1).

On Tuesday, after evacuation and safety plans for Hurricane Dorian nixed Valdosta’s original matchup against Bradwell Institute, the ‘Cats were without an opponent. Likewise, Columbia’s game against Rockledge (Fla.) was canceled, leading to the first-ever meeting between the two teams.

Valdosta enters tonight’s game flying high after crushing rival Tift County 37-0 last week.

The ‘Cats caught fire for 27 third-quarter points to turn a 10-0 halftime lead into a blowout. Considering the ‘Cats had scored just 20 points total in the previous two losses to the Blue Devils, last week’s victory was a statement that Valdosta is out to prove it is a worthy Class 6A state championship contender.

Senior quarterback Tate Rodemaker shined after a quiet season opener. The South Florida commit completed 18-of-25 passes for 203 yards and five touchdowns last week in just three quarters.

The Valdosta defense also came up big with interceptions by Zakye Mathis and Elijah Norwood as well as a fumble recovery by Antoine Scott fueling momentum for the ‘Cats.

“I think we had some big plays,” Rodemaker said of the defense after last week’s win. “Zakye Mathis’ pick early and then as they had a good drive going, Elijah Norwood’s pick down towards the goal line –– you can’t even measure how big those plays are. Those are huge for us on a mental side for our entire football team. ... We played hard. The further it went and as we started stopping them, we played with more confidence. If you could buy confidence, I’d spend all the money I have.”

Through its first two games, Valdosta has allowed just seven points and is averaging 46 points per game.

The Decatur, Ga. native Eagles visit the ‘Cats tonight after a 40-14 win against the Towers Titans last week.

The Eagles play in Region 5-5A and are coached by Brian Montgomery. In terms of star players for the Eagles, the team is powered by running back and free safety Andre Harris. The senior transfer from McNair High School possesses exceptional speed, boasting a 4.5 40-yard dash time. Harris is a game-changer on both sides of the ball for the Eagles, using his athleticism to be disruptive at safety and a bullet between the tackles from the backfield.

Another weapon for the Eagles is running back Daronte Bryant. At 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds, Bryant isn’t the biggest player on the field but excels both in the backfield as a runner and out wide as a pass catcher. The Eagles like to deploy Bryant in a variety of ways, occasionally in the screen game as a receiving threat.

Defensively, the Eagles are anchored by senior middle linebacker Makale Cummings and senior defensive tackle Christopher Rachel. Cummings, at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, is relentless pursuing the ball from the linebacker position –– capable of getting into the backfield for sacks and racking up tackles for losses. Rachel plays defensive tackle and nose guard for the Eagles and should be a focus for the Valdosta offensive and defensive lines. At six feet tall and 320 pounds, Rachel will be a load to handle on both sides for the ‘Cats.

Kickoff for tonight’s game is scheduled for 8 p.m. at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.

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