Valdosta

Valdosta linebacker Curtis Weatherspoon (13) sacks Coffee quarterback Burke Batten during the Wildcats’ 35-7 victory last Friday night. Weatherspoon and the Wildcats travel to Houston County today for their regular season finale.

VALDOSTA — The Valdosta Wildcats close out their regular season tonight on the road.

The Wildcats (7-2, 4-1 Region 1-AAAAA) travel to Warner Robins in pursuit of their eighth win of the season. They will meet Houston County (2-6, 0-4) at 7:30 p.m. at McConnell-Talbert Stadium.

It will be Valdosta’s final game of the regular season. The Wildcats will have next week off, before beginning the playoffs at home on Nov. 17. The Wildcats have already clinched second place in the region.

“We’re already the No. 2 seed, so this game won’t make a difference in the region. But I’d sure like to win it,” Valdosta head coach Rick Tomberlin said. “I’d love to be 8-2 going into the playoffs.

“We still have to have a good game. Connecticut beat South Florida, Appalachian State beat Michigan. Houston can beat us if we don’t play good.”

Valdosta will face the team at the bottom of the standings. Houston made it all the way to the state quarterfinals last year, but graduated nearly its entire team, including AAAAA state Player of the Year Eric O’Neal, now at Coastal Carolina. The 2007 Bears have few returning starters, and have taken their lumps this year. They’ve also had to deal with the sudden resignation of longtime head coach Doug Johnson for health reasons.

“They remind me a lot of us last year,” Tomberlin said. “They’re young, like we were. They have a real tough non-region schedule, with Parkview, Berkmar and (nationally-ranked) Northside, and of course, a tough region schedule.

“They played Tift real close last week (losing 21-14), and that worries me. They had first down on the 4 with a minute to go, and didn’t score. It was that close.”

The Bears still run Johnson’s old wing-T offense some of the time, but new coach George Collins (Johnson’s defensive coordinator) has also added a spread passing attack, making the offense more diversified. Houston quarterback Jeff Thompson threw for 285 yards last week against Tift County. His favorite target, receiver Craig Presley, caught four passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns.

“They’ve got one of the best receivers in the region. (Presley) is a good player,” Tomberlin said. “The quarterback and the tight end (Ricky Williams) look good. They might be the leading passing team in the region. I’m sure they’ll throw a lot of things at us Saturday.

“Defensively, No. 98 (defensive tackle Keith Thomas) is a good football player. The Will linebacker, No. 9 (Tony Larkin), is a good player. So are No. 18 (defensive end Jacob Walker) and No. 74 (6-foot-5, 260-pound Justin Kitchens), who’s a big kid and plays on both lines. Like everyone else, they’re bigger than us.”

Valdosta is coming off of arguably its best performance of the season, a 35-7 rout of Coffee. That victory guaranteed the Wildcats would open the playoffs at home.

One year after the disastrous 1-9 debacle of 2006, Valdosta could post its first eight-win regular season since the 2001 Wildcats went 9-1 en route to a state semifinals appearance.

“This would be the most games Valdosta has won since 2001, so that ought to be motivation for these guys,” Tomberlin said.

This will be Valdosta’s third Saturday game of the season, and two of the three games have been played at McConnell-Talbert. Three weeks ago, the Wildcats beat Warner Robins 20-0 on the same field they will play on tonight.

“I don’t think it’s quite the negative factor it was last time, because we have an open week this time,” Tomberlin said. “Last time, we got home at 2:00, and then had only five days to get ready for Lowndes. I’d rather play Friday, but who knows, maybe we need the extra time. But I don’t think it will be a big deal.”

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