VALDOSTA -- What a difference a week made for Ware County.
Seven days after being dominated by Lowndes, Ware dominated the fourth quarter and defeated Valdosta High 28-14 Friday at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.
A combination of a fired-up Ware team looking to avenge last week's 44-13 loss to Lowndes, a Ware team that made several big fourth-quarter plays, and a Valdosta team that shot itself in the foot several times combined to give the Gators their second straight win on Valdosta's home field.
"I told you during the week that we could win. But we could not play bad and win," Valdosta head coach Rick Darlington said. "We played bad and we lost.
"We did exactly what we said couldn't happen. We gave up big plays. We didn't take care of the football. Even when we didn't turn the ball over, we fumbled it, and fumbles are drive-killers. That's what happened. We deserved what we got, the way we played."
"Our kids took such a beating last week (against Lowndes)," Ware head coach Dan Ragle said. "We pressed on them this week to never quit, never give up, and play the next play. If you do that, more than likely, good things are going to happen to you. They just refused to quit tonight."
As the fourth quarter began, the score was 7-7. But then Ware, which had shown glimpses of brilliance throughout the game, stepped up. In a span of seven minutes, the Gators turned a 7-7 game into a 28-7 lead, and all but put the game away.
"In the second half, we had some major defensive breakdowns, and we didn't punch it in and take care of the football, and do things we needed to do," Darlington said. "We didn't finish things.
"(In the fourth quarter,) Ware made plays. And they didn't make the mistakes we made."
After Ware recovered a Valdosta fumble at the Gator 26, Ware put together a 10-play, 73-yard drive, mixing the run and the pass well. The Gators twice converted on third down, the second one an 18-yard pass from quarterback Henry Chubb to Xavion Thomas that was followed by a 17-yard run by Je'Mario Barkley, moving the ball to the VHS 25. Three plays later, Chubb handed to Barkley on a draw out of the shotgun, and Barkley dashed up the middle for the touchdown. Phillip Jordan's extra point made it 14-7 Ware.
Valdosta quickly moved the ball to the Ware 35, but a fumbled option pitch on third down forced VHS to punt. The Wildcat defense then drove Ware back into a third-and-14 from the Gator 13. But freshman quarterback Victor Daniels, whose running had given the Wildcats trouble earlier, hit Cedric Jones over the middle with a pass, and Jones took the ball all the way to the Wildcat 19, a 68-yard gain. Barkley dashed 19 yards for the touchdown on the next play, and it was 21-7.
On Valdosta's next play from scrimmage, the Wildcats tried a flanker option pass. Brandon Wrice heaved up a long pass downfield, but the 6-foot-5 Thomas, playing free safety, played the ball perfectly and intercepted it at his own 40. He then made a couple of moves, weaved through traffic, and broke into the open, taking the ball into the end zone for the touchdown. All of a sudden, it was 28-7 Ware.
The game was all but decided, but Valdosta responded with its best drive of the night. Quarterback Michael Turner led the offense down the field, with runs of 15 and six, passes of 25 yards to Keir Moore and six to Travis Hall, and the drive culminated with four straight Jamal Scott runs, the last a 3-yarder from the shotgun that he took across the goal line to make it 28-14.
But Ware recovered Valdosta's onside kick, and ran off all but 38 seconds of the clock.
Valdosta moved the ball well early on, picking up 112 yards on its three first-half possessions. But the Wildcats managed just one touchdown.
"In the first half, we fumbled the football, which killed drives," Darlington said. "We didn't turn it over, but it killed drives."
Valdosta broke through at the end of the first quarter. The drive started with a 16-yard option run by Turner and a 12-yard run by Demetrius James. A fumbled option pitch at the 20 seemed to stall the Wildcats' drive, but on fourth down, Turner took the snap, and pitched to Wrice. Wrice, who actually leads Valdosta in passing yards, then threw an 18-yard flanker pass that Antonio Tillman hauled in at the Ware 3. On the next play, James crashed into the end zone behind left tackle Jim Martin and left guard Tom Amiot for the touchdown. Trey Miley's extra point gave Valdosta a 7-0 lead.
At the end of the half, though, Ware (5-1) responded with an 84-yard drive that tied the score right before the teams went to the locker room. Ragle inserted Daniels at quarterback, and the talented freshman led the Gators down the field. He had an 8-yard run for a first down, and threw a 12-yard pass to help Ware out of a 2nd-and-13 hole. Then on the next play, Daniels went left on the option and sped 31 yards, all the way to the VHS 8. Two plays later, Daniels dove over from the 2, tying the score.
Both teams drove into opposing territory in the third quarter, but the score remained 7-7 until Ware's fourth-quarter explosion.
James led Valdosta (3-2) with 84 yards on 14 carries. Ware quarterbacks Chubb and Daniels threw for just 26 yards in the first half, but combined for 153 in the second half, and it made a difference.
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