ALBANY –– Friday night was a dogfight for the Region 3-AAA Championship as the Valwood Valiants got past Deerfield-Windsor 10-7 on the road.
Valwood got Deerfield-Windsor’s best shot on Friday night as expected. The Valiants knew Deerfield’s attack would be better than any they’ve seen and it proved to be true.
A tough test was put before them and they responded in Valwood fashion, at the perfect time.
The game was scoreless until Valwood’s Gatlin Kimbro hit a field goal to take a 3-0 lead in the second quarter. Deerfield swiftly answered with a touchdown after a huge run to make it 7-3 before halftime.
After the half, Valwood’s players looked uneasy during the break. Deerfield had kept their offense off the field and hadn’t allowed much defensively, but even though it wasn’t going their way, the Valiants remained poised.
“(Deerfield-Windsor) are good up front. There’s no doubt about that,” Valwood head coach Justin Henderson said. "Coach Boggs over at Brookwood said they’re as good of a front as Heritage and he was right on the money. I mean they were solid up front, they had some bulldogs but I never saw any panic… (we) knew (we) were going to make some plays eventually. Defense, I was so proud of them they did an awesome job all night. I’m just proud of these guys, all they’ve been through this year, and somehow in this tough tough region they come out on top.”
The start of the second half saw more of the same.
A scoreless third quarter went by and Deerfield was still executing their game plan: Run the ball and keep Valwood’s offense off the field as much as possible.
But a trademark of this Valwood team –– they’re explosive.
In the fourth quarter, Pate Hogan connected with Michael Tucker on a 76-yard touchdown to give the Valiants a 10-7 lead.
That was the explosion.
Fuel was added to their fire when Tucker intercepted the ball on the ensuing drive.
They drove down field to the 18-yard line then faced fourth down. Valwood went for it, the pass fell incomplete and Deerfield had a chance to tie or take the lead with 6 minutes left.
Deerfield attempted to run it but time was ticking so they tested the air. That turned out to be a mistake as Jaheim James intercepted the ball to seal the game and region championship for the Valiants.
“There is no doubt that this team is battle-tested,” Henderson said after the game. “We’ve been in some wars. Some of it self-imposed, some of it not but you know, they just somehow keep finding a way. Sure wish it wasn’t like that, I sure would like the 35-0 but at this point in the year (it’s) playoff time, that was a playoff game tonight. Playoff time, I don’t care if we win by one or a hundred it doesn’t matter, as long as we get that dub.”
This game was reminiscent of the Creekside game earlier this year. Valwood showed that they can take a hit then come back with a knock out punch.
Tucker finished with three catches for 112 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Aalah Brown caught six balls for 113 yards along with tallying six tackles. Hogan completed 14-of-27 passes for 267 yards and a touchdown and Tyler Cross had five tackles.
Valwood looks forward to the postseason after a tough win on the road.
“This was real good because if we wouldn’t have gotten this win we would’ve had to play next week against a super good team,” Tucker said. “So it was good to win this game. We have a bye to recap, reboot, for the next game.”
Now 8-2 on the season and region champs, Valwood gets a bye week in the first round of the GISA state playoffs.
They’ll play the winner of next week’s game between Bethlehem Christian Academy (1-8) and Deerfield-Windsor (5-5). There’s possibility of a rematch between these teams, but this time it’ll be at Valwood for a chance to advance in the playoffs.