VALDOSTA –– The Valdosta Wildcats (1-0) opened the season with a statement, smashing Maynard Jackson (0-1) 55-7 on Friday night.
The ‘Cats got a major lift from its special teams unit, which produced 240 yards against the Jaguars while also putting points on the board. Perhaps the biggest play of the night opened the third quarter as Jaheim Bell took the opening kickoff and motored 95 yards for a touchdown to put the ‘Cats ahead 35-0.
Despite the offense posting 460 total yards, only 220 came from the offense as Valdosta’s offense didn’t have as many opportunities to get going due to Maynard Jackson’s deliberate style of play on offense.
“(The offense) didn’t get a lot of plays,” Valdosta High head coach Alan Rodemaker said. “I think at one point late in the third quarter we had like 15 plays on offense. ... We are playing a little bit better on defense. I don’t how to judge this victory by ear, but I can tell you this, the work we’ve put in on special teams pays off. Hopefully, this is a lesson for our kids because we coach special teams just as hard as we coach offense and defense. Tonight, it netted us a bunch of points.
“I’m sure Coach Crawford isn’t happy with how they played offensively. We had some things called back, but all in all, it was a good night for us.”
The ‘Cats blocked three punts –– recovering one for a touchdown –– and forced two safeties in the first half. Defensively, the ‘Cats flew to the ball and hit hard all night long.
With the defense playing so well, the Valdosta offense managed to make the most of its limited opportunities. Senior Tate Rodemaker completed 5-of-8 passes for 96 yards –– most notably, a 45-yard strike to Bell to put the ‘Cats up 15-0 in the first quarter.
After seeing his offense kept off the field for long stretches, Rodemaker loved what the special teams unit brought to the game to swing the outcome.
“It’s no secret –– they came here to shorten the game,” Rodemaker said of Jackson’s game plan. “They’re a throwing football team, but they came in here and ran the football to shorten the game because we’re explosive offensively. I get it, but I thought the special teams play, especially our punt block team, was everything. They created every opportunity early in the game and then we had a kick return later.
“Special teams were awesome tonight and I thought they really changed the whole deal in the first half. The first half may have been 7-0, 14-0 had it not been for the play of our special teams.”
Defensively, Valdosta held Maynard Jackson to 225 yards of total offense. The ‘Cats forced two turnovers, recovering a fumble and snagging an interception for good measure. The Jaguars ran the ball 25 times for 70 yards, but earned 11 first downs –– extending drives methodically, though they failed to reach the end zone until 1:36 remained in the third quarter with the team trailing 41-0.
Valdosta hosts Tift County next Friday, Aug. 30 at 8 p.m.
“Coach Anders does a great job (at Tift) –– they’ve got an excellent staff, they’ve got really good players and they’ve gotten us the last two years,” Rodemaker said. “I don’t need to say much more than that. That’s a longtime rival of ours and we need to win that game. As soon as we get done with this one tonight, tomorrow morning will be all about Tift County. But like I said, they’ve gotten us the last two years. ... We need to get them this year.”