VALDOSTA -- To go any further in the playoffs, Valdosta High will have to beat the best in the state: No. 1 Camden County.
Valdosta (7-4) travels east to Kingsland tonight to face off with Camden (11-0). Kickoff at Gilman Stadium comes at 8 p.m.
Valdosta knows it has its work cut out for it.
"Without a doubt, it's a daunting task," Valdosta head coach Rick Darlington said. "They're a great team. They play great football. They're fundamentally sound, and very athletic, and they do the things they do very well.
"We're ready, as ready as we're going to be. We've had a good week of practice. We're well-prepared. It's time to go out there and knock heads."
Valdosta wound up with a bad playoff bracket, thanks to the GHSA, which decided to change the brackets this year. Instead of facing No. 6 Stephenson, the Wildcats must head to Camden.
"There's a lot of people we'd rather play," Darlington said. "But that's how the brackets are. If we want to win a state championship, we've got to play them eventually."
There's no secret what Camden is going to do. On offense, it will run its wing-T offense, and on defense, its 3-3-5 alignment rarely gives up many points. Camden has surrendered just 59 points all season (just 5.4 points a game), and is allowing just 95.5 total yards a game.
"They do what they do, and they're very good at it," Darlington said.
Camden uses several backs on offense, but the best is Brandon West, who's being recruited by Clemson, among other teams. West has rushed for 1,084 yards and 23 touchdowns, and also leads the team with 13 catches for 230 yards and three touchdowns. He'll get the ball plenty tonight. So will fullback Mario Roberts, who has 657 yards and 10 touchdowns. Darien Scott (377 yards, 5 TD) and two-way player Ashton Hall (304 yards, 4 TD) are also threats. Camden quarterback Barry Johnson has thrown for 529 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for another four touchdowns.
Camden's dominant defense is led by defensive end Kevin McNeil (36 tackles, 6 sacks, 15 tackles for loss), defensive back David Coleman (6 interceptions, 3 defensive touchdowns), defensive back William Johnson (55 total tackles), and linebacker Gary Blount (34 solo tackles), all college prospects.
"They've got a lot of great players on both sides of the ball," Darlington said. "They've got a great group of athletes, and they're well-coached."
Camden loves to blitz, especially against teams in the shotgun, so Valdosta knows to expect it. The coaches have been trying to prepare the offense for it.
Camden also respects Valdosta plenty. Valdosta may not have the dominant record it has most years, but their opponents' coach isn't underestimating them.
"It's Valdosta. It's still Valdosta," Camden head coach Jeff Herron told The Brunswick News. "I shouldn't have to say anything else. They've been the premier program in the state of Georgia forever, and certainly they've been that in South Georgia maybe longer than forever."
Herron is also well aware of how dangerous Valdosta quarterback Alfrie Johnson (812 yards, 6 TD rushing; 419 yards, 4 TD passing) has been the past few weeks.
"He's absolutely taken over games the last couple of weeks," Herron said. "But he's not all they have. They have more good skill kids than anyone we've faced."
Those skill kids will have to step up tonight, like All-Region receivers Steve Dawson (37 rec., 512 yards, 4 TD) and Travis Hall (16 rec., 269 yards, 3 TD), and running back Jamil Chandler (319 yards, 3 TD). Valdosta will have to make plays when they have the chance, because Camden doesn't give teams a lot of chances to score.
Directions to Camden: Take US 84 East to Waycross. In Waycross, get on U.S. 1/U.S. 23 South to Folkston. In Folkston, take S.R. 40 East into Kingsland. In Kingsland, get on Interstate 95 North to Exit 6. Go east, about a mile and a half. The school and the stadium are on the right.
Or for an Interstate route, take Interstate 75 South to Lake City, Fla. Take Interstate 10 East into Jacksonville. In Jacksonville, get on Interstate 295 North, and take it to Interstate 95. Take I-95 North to Georgia Exit 6. Go east, about a mile and a half. The school and the stadium are on the right.
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