Valiants come up short in a tough back-and-forth against Bowdon

Mary Ann Miller | Special to the TimesValwood’s Jaheim James (2) runs in for a touchdown Friday against Bowdon at Goddard Field.

HAHIRA –– It was a hot and humid Friday night in Hahira as the Valwood Valiants fell short 14-10 against the Bowdon Red Devils in the season opener. 

After winning the coin toss the Valiants chose to kickoff, and when Bowdon started their first drive they fumbled and Valwood’s Tyler Cross recovered it, setting them up with good field position. 

Even with the field position Valwood couldn’t punch it in and turned the ball over after failing to convert on fourth down.

The first touchdown of the game and of Valwood’s season came off a heave from quarterback Pate Hogan to wideout Jaheim James, who caught a tipped jump ball down the left sideline and trotted into the endzone.

That put the Valiants up 7-0 over the Red Devils early in the first. 

Bowdon soon let Valwood know that they weren’t going out easy. 

For the rest of the first quarter they relied on the run game and weren’t getting much success. But when defense stepped on the field, they kept pressure on the pocket, forcing Hogan to make some tough reads.

The first quarter ended with the score still 7-0.

The second quarter saw Bowdon’s true commitment to the run game. They attempted about three passes throughout the entire quarter, and their dedication to the ground game paid off midway through the second quarter as they punched in a touchdown to tie it up 7-7.

Valwood looked to answer before the half and found themselves in the redzone with 2:27 remaining after a great catch from Aalah Brown. Valwood’s Zach Paulk then tried to reel in a touchdown but it fell incomplete after drawing a defensive pass interference.

The Red Devil defense bent but they didn’t break at the goal line as they forced Valwood to settle for a field goal to put the Valiants up 10-7. 

The second half started to reveal Valwood’s struggle of having a 30-man roster. Players started getting hurt due to the nature of the game, and players were starting to cramp due to the nature of Valdosta.

“We’re not very deep, we knew that going in,” said Valwood Head Coach Justin Henderson. “Not to make excuses but it’s going to be tough in these hot August and September nights…We’re tough though, that’s for sure.”

Bowdon didn’t make the situation any better as they kept running, and running, and running the ball. Slowly but surely making progress down the field all while wearing down Valwood’s roster in a scoreless third quarter.

The fourth quarter is what got interesting, real interesting.

Bowdon caught Valwood sleeping and pulled off a fake punt run play that led to a touchdown with 11:48 to go in the game. Bowdon was now up 14-10.

Valwood needed to answer to win, and this was their final drive:

Hogan throws a deep pass while getting hit and connects with Paulk for a huge gain, setting them up on Bowdon’s 26-yard line.

After a short gain and an incompletion, Valwood was facing 3rd down with 2 yards to get. Hogan then went for it all and tried connecting with Paulk again, but the catch was ruled incomplete as the ref claimed he landed out of bounds.

Now fourth and short, Valwood hands it off to Blaine Cooper and he steamrolled for the first down and more. The Valiants were now knocking on the door to score.

The following play was a mishandled snap and Valwood took a big loss, making it 2nd and 18. The very next play was another costly mistake and the Valiants earned a delay of game penalty, pushing them back to 2nd down with 24 yards to go.

A play for almost no gain goes by and it’s now Valwood is looking at 3rd down and 23 yards to go.

Hogan resorts to flinging a pass to Brown down the sideline and it fell short, but thanks to Bowdon’s pass interference on the play Valwood was now setting up for 3rd down with 12 yards to go and 5:45 remaining.

The next play was the gut punch. 

Hogan dropped back and heaved another pass to Brown. Brown leaped up with two defenders on him, caught the ball, kept his right foot inbounds while falling, and maintained possession of the catch only for the referee to signal an incomplete pass. 

The potential game winning play was now an afterthought after a controversial call.

Valwood then turned the ball over on downs after an incompletion and Bowdon sealed the game by doing what they do best, running the ball. 

 “Just got to let the guys know that it’s the first game, we’re going to make mistakes, we’ve just got to learn from them,” said Paulk after the tough loss. “It’s going to build us up, we just have to fight through it.” 

The Valiants have a long season ahead of them and shouldn’t hang their heads on the first game. Some things were just out of their control and that’s how the game of football goes sometimes.

They’ll be looking forward to having a clean slate next week while preparing for their big matchup against Frederica Academy.

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