DOUGLAS –– Senior quarterback Tate Rodemaker threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns as No. 3 Valdosta rolled past No. 8 Coffee 28-7 on Friday.
Breakout junior receiver Javonte Sherman caught touchdown passes of 96 and 65 yards –– finishing with five catches for 188 yards on the night.
Valdosta struggled at times in the first half against a blitzing Coffee defense, but the ‘Cats came out of the halftime break with a second wind as the 65-yard touchdown to Sherman, followed by a bruising 17-yard touchdown run by senior T.J. Dailey in the last 3 minutes of the third quarter put the game on ice.
Valdosta head coach Alan Rodemaker wasn’t too pleased with his team’s eight penalties for 80 yards and lack of execution on short yardage plays, but was happy to leave Jardine Stadium with a win.
“I think we’re in good shape,” Rodemaker said. “I think our kids are conditioned. I always think we’re gonna win the second half just because we’re well-conditioned. That’s what I told them at halftime, ‘There’s no doubt in my mind that you’re well-conditioned and that’ll pay huge dividends for us down the road. I’ve always thought we’ve been a second-half team.
“What a mess though –– we had a lot of penalties. Two games in a row we’ve had a lot of penalties, so we’ve got to fix that. I’m a little disappointed we had a lot of kids go down tonight –– I had a kicker get sick, guys had injuries so some of the sloppiness was because we were replacing a lot of guys in different places. Boy, we’ve just got to play so much cleaner. ... I’m just frustrated a little bit right now with the way we played. I’m really happy for the victory, I’m really happy to be 2-0 in this region and I’m really happy to be going home 1-0 this Friday like we said we wanted to be.”
The ‘Cats racked up 394 yards of total offense while the defense held the Trojans to 214 yards of total offense –– 97 coming in the passing game.
Sophomore defensive back J.D. Rhym picked off two passes for the ‘Cats on Friday, the second of which came as the Trojans were on a seven-play drive looking to cut into Valdosta’s lead. Junior linebacker Chris McClain added an interception of his own in the first half.
“This team was averaging 37 points a game,” Rodemaker said of Coffee. “They were like in the top five in 6A in scoring, so I’m proud of our defense –– run and pass. We had the big ball that we didn’t want to give up, but other than that, we had a couple picks and I thought we played really good run defense. I knew they wanted to run it and all the little passing was just to set up the run. I can’t say enough about our defensive staff.”
The Trojans used two quarterbacks on Friday with sophomore Zay Simpson getting the start and A.J. Wilkerson coming on for much of the second half. Together, the duo combined to complete 10-of-14 passes for 97 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.
The lone score came with 6:59 left in the first quarter as Simpson found leading receiver Jaylen Suggs breaking free from the Valdosta defense to cruise 85 yards to the end zone to tie the game at 7.
“(Coffee’s) first score was a really good play call by them,” Rodemaker said. “They slipped the back out on us and we didn’t cover them. We were prepared, but we just didn’t cover them well. Give them all the credit for that, but other than that, I thought we played lights out on defense.”
Making his first appearance at tight end this season, Valdosta linebacker Jaylin Alderman made an immediate impact as Rodemaker connected with him for 13 yards on just the second play from scrimmage to put the ‘Cats on the board 7-0 with 9:51 left in the opening quarter. Alderman caught two passes for 15 yards.
Another receiver that stood out for the ‘Cats on Friday was senior Abel Norwood. Norwood had five catches for 72 yards, including a 36-yard hookup with Rodemaker on Valdosta’s first drive that set up Alderman’s score.
Valdosta: Hosts Lee County next Friday.
Coffee: Visits Houston County next Friday.