'Cats moving in the right direction ahead of matchup with Eagles

Paul Leavy | Special to the TimesValdosta running back TJ Dailey is congratulated on his way to the sideline by offensive coordinator Josh Crawford during a game against Colquitt County on Sept. 13 at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.

VALDOSTA –– A week after a classic victory against rival Colquitt County, No. 1 Valdosta (4-0) turns its attention to another non-region foe –– Beaufort out of South Carolina.

Valdosta held on for a 50-49 regulation victory against Colquitt County, squeaking by on a missed 41-yard field goal by the Packers' Jason Gallardo with 11.7 seconds remaining.

The 'Cats came up big when the moment called for it, as Tate Rodemaker led the 'Cats on a 12-play, 77-yard drive and two-point conversion for the go-ahead score last Friday night. Specifically, for the first time all season, the 'Cats were able to run the ball effectively.

Valdosta ran for a season-high 138 yards against Colquitt, a lion's share of the success coming on the legs of senior running back TJ Dailey. Dailey had 22 carries for 95 yards, while racking up 97 yards receiving for good measure.

"I think we're heading in the right direction," Valdosta head coach Alan Rodemaker said. "Honestly, it's good to get a win, but I think even if (Colquitt) made the field goal Friday, we get a lot of confidence out of that game. And that's not the way we want to do it. We want to win the football game. In turn, I think Colquitt got some confidence from that game because two good football teams, two very good offensive football teams went against each other and one of them just ran out of time."

Thus far in the non-region schedule, Valdosta has two blowout victories against Maynard Jackson and Columbia and signature wins against Region 1-7A powers Tift County and Colquitt County.

Long a proponent of constructing a tough non-region schedule, Rodemaker believes the schedule is making his team more battle-tested and confident as the team gears up for region play in a couple of weeks.

"It's working out like it needs to work out –– we had good games against Tift and Colquitt and we took care of business the other two games," Rodemaker said. "So, to me, I think our team's riding high and we need to be by the time we enter region. We've got another test this week and one more after that and then we start region play. I like where we're at right now. We're healthy for the most part and we're playing with some confidence and that's where I want to be."

Beaufort comes into Friday night's game losers of its first two contests, dropping both by three touchdowns on average. In their previous meeting against the 'Cats, the Eagles were beaten soundly 49-20. In fact, Valdosta led 42-6 at the half.

But Rodemaker expects an aerial attack from the Eagles much like last year when they outscored Valdosta 14-7 in the second half.

"They're gonna throw the football –– they're gonna get in the spread and throw the football," Rodemaker said. "They had some success, even though the score was kind of out there a little bit last year, they had some success throwing the football against us. We've got to shore up that part of the game. That's really all we've given up on defense is just some yards in the air and touchdowns in the air. We've been solid against the ground game, even though Colquitt had some yards last week on the ground. We've just got to improve on our back end and whether we're playing man or zone, we've got to do a better job."

The Eagles are led by sophomore quarterback Tyler Haley, senior running back James Dagin and wide receiver Marcus Goodwater.

From what Rodemaker has gathered on film, Haley is a left-handed quarterback that throws a good ball and Dagin is a factor not only in the running game but on special teams as well. In Goodwater, Rodemaker believes the receiver is the best the Eagles have out wide.

"Everywhere else, they've got some new guys," Rodemaker said of the Eagles. "They've got a lot of juniors. They lost a lot of good players on offense from last year. I think they'll be different, but their skill players are back. It'll be a challenge for us –– it's kind of a sandwich game for us (between Colquitt and Lowndes), so we've got to play well."

With Dailey establishing himself as the go-to guy at running back last week against Colquitt, and the 'Cats finally seeing results from their attempts at gashing teams on the ground, Rodemaker likes how the offense's next dimension is developing.

Depth at running back and the maturation of an unproven, untested offensive line were major concerns in the offseason. Heading into Game 5 of the regular season, Rodemaker feels confident in the strides both units have made from week-to-week.

"Man, let's run it," Rodemaker said. "I thought our last drive –– which was our best drive of the game –– we ran the ball five or six times and three of those were quarterback runs. Two or three of them were Dailey and that's really unique when you're in a 2-minute drill situation. But I think we can do it. TJ makes us better, but the real reason we're running better is because of what the offensive line is doing. 

"They get better every game. Coach (Bryce) Giddens is doing a great job and I promise you, Coach (Josh) Crawford wants to run the football and I want to run the football. It's going to be a point of emphasis for us."

Tonight will be Homecoming for the 'Cats and next week, Valdosta will travel across town to Martin Stadium to face Lowndes in the Winnersville Classic.

Tonight, Rodemaker says, is the only game that matters.

"To me, I think the challenge is getting over the game we just had and playing a clean game (tonight) and moving on –– not looking back, not looking forward, just staying concentrated on what's going on (tonight)," Rodemaker said. "And it's gonna be Homecoming for us so it's a big night for the whole school."

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