Vikings kick off state playoffs against Hoyas

Shane Thomas | The Valdosta Daily TimesLowndes quarterback Jacurri Brown (11) tosses the ball back to an official after running for a first down during the Corky Kell Classic against Walton Aug. 21 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

VALDOSTA – It’s playoff time and the Lowndes Vikings haven’t lost in two months.

They’ll kick off the postseason at home tonight against the Harrison Hoyas (4-6, 2-3 Region 3-7A) out of Kennesaw, Ga.

The Vikings improved to 8-2 by winning in Camden County 35-29 in the last game of the season Oct. 29. They also kept their unbeaten region record intact, finishing 3-0 for the third time in five years.

By going unbeaten and winning the region, the Vikings earned at least the first two rounds of the GHSA playoffs at home, should they make it to the second.

The Vikings are getting hot at the right time, finishing the season on a winning streak of six games and counting. Their last loss came Sept. 10 in a 24-21 nail-biter at Lee County.

But six straight wins to close the season was only the first step for head coach Jamey DuBose and the Vikings. 

“We made a pledge to each other in here that we we’re gonna run the table and win the next six. Whatever it took.” DuBose said. “Our goal is to be 1-0 on Friday night at midnight.

“But the ultimate goal is to win a state championship. I think with this program at Lowndes, you can’t say, ‘We got to the quarters, it’s a good year,’ ‘We got to the semis, it’s a good year.’ This program is always measured by getting to the state championship. So that’s the goal.”

The first team that stands in between the Vikings and that goal are the 4-6 Hoyas.

The Hoyas should not be discounted on record alone. Their defensive line is solid and while the passing game has seen highs and lows this season, but the highs have been impressive. 

Many of the lows have come against very stiff competition as well. The Hoyas’ region, Region 3-7A, is one of the toughest in the state.

North Cobb finished this year atop the region, and it’s very possible they could also finish atop the state in December, as their 9-1 record has them ranked the second-best team in Georgia by MaxPreps.

The other two playoff teams from the region, Walton and Marietta are both 7A powerhouses as well, and both are ranked in the top 15 teams in the state, regardless of classification. 

Walton and Marietta play the Vikings’ region mates Colquitt and Tift respectively. North Cobb will play Camden.

While North Cobb has looked dominant for most of the season, Camden proved they can hang with the best teams in the state during region play. Although the Wildcats finished 0-3 in the region, they were all close losses.

The game against the Vikings, the last of the season, came down to two touchdowns scored in the final minute of the game. 

Vikings quarterback Jacurri Brown made sure the team’s pledge after Lee County remained intact by throwing a 78-yard game winning touchdown to Chase Belcher with about a dozen seconds left. 

Brown’s heroics were only necessary because the Wildcats had just taken the lead back by successfully converted on a go-ahead a two-point attempt with less than a minute to play.

After the emotional rollercoaster of that game on Oct. 29, DuBose spoke what it was like having a week off to rest and recover before the playoffs. 

“I think it was really good from a mental and a physical standpoint to have a week off,” DuBose said. “To not have to prepare, get ready, get worked up mentally for a big game, and be able to go through the week as a normal student, I think was really good.”

The Harrison Hoyas must also feel good about how they spent their last week. They won a key region game win to secure a spot in the postseason and did so by dominating their region rival Hillgrove 44-13.

When the Hoyas need a big win, they look to their senior quarterback and team captain Jake Walling.

Against Hillgrove, he delivered. 

Though a bit undersized at only 5-10 and 160 pounds, Walling stood tall in the pocket that night, rarely missing on the darts he fired to a handful of targets. Walling completed 92.6% of his passes for 242 yards and four touchdowns. 

Walling’s favorite target that day and one of the Hoya’s top producers on offense this season was and is Jared Montour, a 6-foot senior running back/defensive back. Montour caught 7 passes for 100 yards and two scores against Hillgrove, one of his most productive games of the season. 

Walling often spreads the ball around to multiple receivers, however.

“I think they throw the ball around really well” said DuBose. “I don’t think they’ve got a wide receiver that’s gonna stand out, but they’ve got a lot of solid guys out there that run good routes and don’t drop balls.”

The Hoyas’ offense has shifted between looking like a well-oiled machine to just pistons sputtering with no spark. Last week against Hillgrove and on Oct. 15 against North Paulding, the Hoyas scored 44 and 45 points respectively. 

However, against tougher region opponents North Cobb, Marietta, and Walton, the Hoyas’ offense was more turnover-prone and struggled to get the ball into the end zone. 

The Hoyas scored 14 points in a 42-14 loss to North Cobb and managed only 12 and 10 against Marietta and Walton respectively. 

But Hoyas head coach Josh Cassidy was recently promoted from defensive coordinator, and it shows.

“You can tell there’s a lot of attention to detail on their defense,” DuBose said. “They blitz a lot so we’ll just have to stay in our gaps.

“When teams blitz a lot if you can break through the line and get to the second and third level there’s not that many back there and you’ve got the opportunity for big plays.”

The Vikings and Hoyas each have spent the last week preparing for each other, but for one of them it will be the last they have to prepare for. At least until next year. 

Coach DuBose has led the Vikings to the playoffs in each of his first two years and has three championships at previous schools already, so the coach knows the stakes for the Vikings going into this game against the Hoyas. 

“It’s a reward just to be here right now,” DuBose said, putting the season in perspective. “A lot of teams took up equipment this week. We’re one of the few that got to continue on, and now our goal is to not take up equipment next week and keep extending the season.”

Tonight’s game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., at Martin Stadium.

The winner will face the winner of Norcross-Cherokee on Nov. 19.

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