The Valdosta Daily Times
Four more wins is all that sits in the way of the Valwood Valiants from claiming the school’s fourth state championship, and first since 1999.
Tonight, the Valiants (10-0) will take a step towards securing that state title when they host the Central Fellowship Lancers (4-6) in the first round of the Georgia Independent School Association (GISA) Class AA state playoffs at Goddard Field. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
“During football season, that is the fastest time of the year,” Valwood head coach Ashley Henderson said. “It always goes by too fast and now if you don’t go out there and give your best effort, it is over. You have to work hard Monday through Thursday and play hard on Friday to get another week.”
The winner of tonight’s game will play either Trinity Christian or Dominion Christian in the state quarterfinals next weekend. Valwood would be at home for either matchup and won’t have to go on the road for the entire postseason.
On paper, Valwood is the far superior team heading into tonight’s matchup, winning by an average of 33 points per game. Central Fellowship needed a 25-14 win over Covenant Academy last week just to qualify for the playoffs with a 4-6 record.
Regardless of records, Henderson and the Valiants aren’t taking the Lancers lightly tonight.
“They have some really good looking kids,” Henderson said. “They pass the eye test when you see them. They have some big defensive linemen and some big offensive linemen. They pass the eye test for sure.”
Offensively, the Lancers run a wishbone style offense and will look to control the ball, says Henderson.
“They’re definitely a ball control offense,” he said. “They are a power run game team.”
Defensively, Central Fellowship lines up with 5 defensive linemen, while mixing in the base 4-4 defense. Neither defensive scheme works well against Valwood’s spread style offense that is averaging 408.4 yards per game.
Valwood closed out the regular season with a 48-7 win over Southwest Georgia Academy last week. The win secured the school’s first-ever perfect regular season and the school’s second straight outright region championship.
Through their undefeated regular season, the Valiants were able to stay balanced, mixing in the run and pass on offense. Senior Khary Paige led the team in total yards with 1,129 yards rushing and 224 yards receiving. He scored a team-high 20 touchdowns.
“(Khary) averages a bunch of yards per touch,” Henderson said. “He has probably only carried it about half as much as he did last year because we have some other quality backs right there. Mark Merine and Zane Edmonson have combined for about 100 carries this year. So we were able to get some guys that are going to be back next year some carries and that will be valuable experience that will be huge, not just for this year, but for next year.”
Along with Paige, who also leads the team in tackles with 41, senior Rashad Mathis (37 catches for 579 yards; 18 rushes for 156 yards and 12 combined touchdowns) and Char Merine (24 receptions for 409 yards with five touchdowns) have been able to help carry the offensive load this season.
“It makes it easy and hard (to call plays),” Henderson said. “Because you get to a point in the game where you’re like ‘Well we haven’t gotten the ball to this guy yet.’”
“They are all big play guys and we give it to the fresh one and let them go. You like to see all of them get it.”
At quarterback, the Valiants implemented the two-quarterback system the week of the team’s 17-14 win over Mount de Sales in September. Senior Jake Lastinger started the season, while fellow senior Tyler Williams has started to rotate in. On the season, the two quarterbacks have combined for 1,433 yards with 17 touchdowns.
“A lot of people don’t believe in a two quarterback system and I never have,” Henderson said. “But it works. We tried the one quarterback and then we decided to make a move and start letting Tyler compete; they kept pushing each other. They challenge each other and for whatever reason, it works with those two. They get a long great and when one does something good in practice or a game the other is there to congratulate them.”
Prior to tonight’s game, four-year olds Addie and Emma Seacrist will participate in the coin toss at midfield. The two will also participate in a cheer with the Valwood cheerleaders at halftime. Addie was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia with positive Philadelphia chromosome in August.
Donation buckets will be passed around throughout the game in order to help raise money for the Seacrist family.
“It is the least you could do,” Henderson said. “We went and bought a chicken dinner from their thing the other day and I met the two girls; it is heart-wrenching. I have never seen Addie without a smile on her face — ear-to-ear smile. It keeps everything in perspective.
“When I walked up and saw that little girl, my heart stopped. When you have the opportunity to do something nice for someone else, do it.”
Char Marine to play in Senior Bowl
Valwood’s Char Merine has been selected to participate in the high school Senior Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 31. Merine has played safety, cornerback and wide receiver for the Valiants this season. He has 36.5 total tackles on defense and 24 receptions for 409 yards with five touchdowns on offense this season.
“It is huge for us; it talks a lot about what Valwood has to offer,” Henderson said. “You get a top-notch education and you can play sports. “It says a lot. It isn’t just little old Valwood. We play a good brand of football; we play our own style of football. Sure, we don’t play Valdosta or Lowndes, but we have our own brand. We have something unique to offer in the classroom and something unique to offer on the field, too.”