MOULTRIE – So many numbers to mull over, some naturally of a historic nature. The 105th meeting between two high school football programs of tradition. A winning streak on one side that still doesn’t change the overall record in favor of the other.
And if one looks hard enough, they will find current polls that have at least one – if not both – No. 1 in the state of Georgia in the top two classifications.
The latest chapter of Valdosta High vs. Colquitt County High in football could be one for the ages this Friday at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. While the Packers are enjoying a six-year winning streak over the Wildcats (which may never see anyone equal their number of state titles going back since toe met leather for the first time), that run is in serious jeopardy even with both teams beginning their respective seasons on major rolls.
The story of Colquitt County’s path to this season is well-documented, and first-year head coach Justin Rogers has things so-far, so-good at 2-0 and a No. 1 or No. 2 position in Class 7A.
Things, however, turned around in a remarkable hurry for Valdosta High under coach Alan Rodemaker, who only three years ago led this program to its latest state championship victory in Class 6A. The last two seasons, however, saw things slide on their side of Winnersville. Last year’s team did reach the state quarterfinals, but overall it was an 8-5 season with one particularly staggering statistic. While the Wildcats scored 473 points, they barely held off the opposition’s 441.
Colquitt County last year, in 15 games, allowed a mere 156 points.
Now, Valdosta is 3-0 and battling Dacula High (which eliminated the ’Cats last year) for No. 1 in 6A. It was no typo; one of the three wins was a shutout over Tift County High 37-0.
The rivalry is back at Bazemore-Hyder for the first time since that 2016 championship season, but it was still Colquitt County’s night with some record setting performances from Shawn Shamburger and his 100-yard interception return for a touchdown and Isaac Malagon’s 51-yard field goal on his first ever varsity attempt.
The joint might indeed be a-rockin’.
“The biggest thing is tradition,” said Rogers about such rivalries. “The only way to have tradition is through long-standing things like that. That’s a testament to many generations and so many people who have attended this game in the past. That’s pretty cool.”
Valdosta High football, just recently, makes one think about Malcolm Mitchell, Jay Rome, father Stan Rome and the late coach Nick Hyder. It’s not those players, however, Rogers and the Packers must look at all week and formulate the game plan.
“They are a very good football team,” said Rogers. “(Quarterback Tate Rodemaker) is extremely savvy and very smart, and he’s got some really good receivers and tight ends to throw to. Offensively, they put a lot of pressure on you. They are a quick-strike offense. Defensively, it’s a lot like ours. They are fast, a lot of speed at a lot of positions. They fly around.”
Rodemaker, the quarterback, is in his senior year, and it’s no secret that he is another one of those coach’s sons who excels at the game.
“You just know he grew up around it,” said Rogers. “He’s probably been in that locker room since he was 3 or 4 years old. He’ll handle the situations, the moments, the emotions. It’s literally like having an extra coach on the field and having that calming presence. Those guys are special.”
Tate Rodemaker’s playing time was limited as a sophomore in 2017, but last year the job was all his. He turned in 3,539 passing yards on 235 completions (63 percent) and 31 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. During the offseason Rodemaker committed to South Florida, where Valdosta State’s recent national championship winning head coach, Kerwin Bell, went to become offensive coordinator.
“He’s a very good football player,” said Rogers. “He carries himself very well. He’ll be a tough match-up for us.”
But the prospects don’t end there, and neither to the match-up problems facing the Packers. Jaheim Bell stands 6-foot-3, and he is coming off a junior season with 52 catches for 770 yards.
“Without question, he is so talented,” said Rogers. “He’s all over the place.
“Every (Wildcat) receiver is good. They can spread the ball around. It’s not like they’re throwing to one guy. They have a really good defensive end. Linebackers are super fast, and there’s a really good corner.”
How has that defense turned things around? Yes, following the shutout of the Blue Devils, Valdosta defeated Columbia of Atlanta at home 54-34, most of the Columbia scoring coming after the Wildcats built a big lead. Quarterback Octavious Griffin would up with 411 passing yards and five touchdowns and receiver William Hemsley caught 10 of the 20 completions for 258 yards.
But last year was true misery to be a Wildcat defensive coach. Not only did the Packers put up 48 in a win, but then county rival Lowndes hung 71 on the Wildcats. Eventual state champion Lee County scored 63 in a region game, and even in a region win for Valdosta Northside tallied 44 points. Dacula’s total in the playoff win was 55.
“They aren’t doing it right now,” said Rogers about all this scoring. “They must have had a bunch of young guys last year. They are playing very well, very good with their assignments. They aren’t giving up a lot of big plays. They are keeping the ball in front of them. They will make us earn it.”
That leaves one more match-up, that at the line of scrimmage. Colquitt showed improved offensive numbers from the Corky Kell Classic game, 17-6 over North Gwinnett, with 45 in the win over Thomasville. The offensive front looked strong in pass protection and seeing Daijun Edwards get his first 100-yard rushing game of 2019.
“Our O-line is continually getting better,” said Rogers. “This D-line will give us a different set of problems. What they lack in size they have in speed. They are more penetrators getting up the field. Our D-line is pretty good, and we are going to need our D-line this week to apply pressure to Rodemaker to make him uncomfortable and help our secondary … get the pocket moving and get him off his launch point.”
For Colquitt quarterback Jaycee Harden, last Friday was a career night with the 21 completions and 341 yards with four touchdowns. He completed 78 percent of his passes not to one guy either, but to seven teammates.
“We want to have high-rate completions,” said Rogers. “Get things that are simple and easy. I thought Jaycee did a great job of taking what the defense gave. What you don’t want to do is force the ball in areas. Read your coverages, take the easy steps and move on.
“We spread the ball around. Four catches here, four catches there, two catches here, two catches there. After they caught the ball, they were able to get yards after the catch. I think we had 183 after the catch. We want to get them in an extension of the run game.”
What nobody wants is a slew of yellow flags on the field. Rogers said most of the 12 fouls from the Thomasville game were “effort penalties.” The offensive holdings fit in that category.
“We don’t want penalties by no means,” he said. “Holding is one of those things where you are playing hard. We had two mental busts; that’s what we don’t want. False starts, ‘come on, we have to do better than that.’ The effort penalties you are going to have, some I thought were close. If they call the penalty, we have to handle our emotions. We got a personal foul wanting to say something. Those things we’ve addressed. We can’t have self-inflicted wounds.”
Emotions may run high Friday with all the rivalry talk. How do the Packers keep that from costing them in the win column?
“You have to keep the focus on yourself,” said Rogers. “Really, that’s best way to keep the focus all year. Every week, you should be playing a face-less opponent. That other side shouldn’t matter.
“Does it get into your mind? I’m sure it does, especially someone like Valdosta. We do preach to understand that it’s all about Packers. Make sure we do our executions.”