VALDOSTA—When the Lowndes Vikings and Champagnat Catholic Lions take the field tonight there will be a noticeable difference.
The Vikings will have about two-times the the roster as the Lions. That won’t prevent Lowndes from treating them as the threat they are.
Champagnat are the 2017 2A champions and 2018 runner-ups from the Florida High School Athletic Association. The Lions only have about 40 players listed on their roster but have top caliber athletes in their ranks.
Defensively, the Lions have a team full of athletes that swarm to the ball. The Lions engage in team tackling by wrapping up the ball carrier to stop their progress while other players finish the tackle.
That charge is led by Jesus Machado.
Machado is a linebacker and defensive end that has collegiate offers from top programs like Alabama, Florida State and Georgia.
Cornerback Jalen Harrell is a staple of the Lions secondary. The Florida State commit is a ball-savvy player who can cover any route.
He’ll present problems for the Vikings receiving core with his size and speed.
“They are very athletic on the back end on defense,” associate head coach Josh Akers said. “They play hard. They don’t have the numbers we have. I think they’re going to dress 45 players or so but they’re definitely athletic. The corners are very, very good. They have several kids with college offers and I expect a good game and give us a good challenge.”
On offense, the Lions don’t shy from using their weapons.
Wide receiver Johnquai Lewis had more than 1,200 yards in his 2018 campaign. Adjacent from him is an equally dynamic receiver, Malik Rutherford.
Rutherford had three receptions for 122 yards in the Lion’s opener, all from quarterback Ryle Aguila. The senior quarterback went 15-of-19 with 372 yards and five touchdowns in the 41-0 victory against New Smyrna Beach.
He’s a player that likes to move around and can extend the pocket to allow his receivers time to get open. They’re a pass heavy team but can also run from the spread offense.
They’ll try to keep the Vikings off-balance but the counter is the veteran defense of the Concrete Curtain.
“If they try us I think we’re going to be ready,” senior cornerback Josh Brown said. “We’ve been working hard this week. The quarterback likes to run around a little bit when things get hot but in the secondary we’ve been preparing for the deep ball. They like to do a lot of motion. Really they like to try to mess with your head and I think our coaches have been doing a good job getting us prepared for that this week.”
The Vikings had two offensive shutouts in their first two weeks.
In their scrimmage against Bainbridge, they prevented the offense from scoring through three varsity quarters, and through a junior varsity quarter as well.
In the season opener against Drew, the lone score came from a special teams blunder. They allowed the Titans to score a touchdown on fourth-and-distance from their own end zone via a fake punt.
Now they’re facing a dynamic offense and gritty defense with hopes of keeping their streak alive.
“It’s going to be a test you know, they’ve got several DI players,” Vikings head coach Randy McPherson said. “They’re big, fast and it’s going to be a big test. Our kids are excited though. They’re excited to play a team like they’ve got and what everybody is talking about and we’re going to be ready to go.”
The matchup is slated as the homecoming game for the Vikings. The usual excitement and emotion that comes with that territory is sure to be present.
But unlike most homecoming games, Champagnat won’t be the typical walkover.
The Lions are going to confront the Vikings with a reality check. And when they come knocking, the expectation is that Lowndes will rise to the occasion.
“(The team’s) level of play to rise,” defensive coordinator Byron Slack said on his expectations for the matchup. “When we played last week I think we did a good job. And Drew had some kids that could run around. I think Champagnat is going to have a few more kids that can run around. We fully expect for their level of play to rise and match their skill. Which is going to be tough but I think we can do it.”
The Vikings and Lions will meet at Martin Stadium tonight at 8 p.m.