MOULTRIE – Colquitt County co-defensive coordinator Alan Rodemaker said his players were gassed at halftime on Friday with the Packers and visiting Valdosta tied at 7-7.
The Packers looked anything but weary in the final two quarters, however, holding the Wildcats to just a field goal and four first downs and coming away with a satisfying 24-10 victory.
The game had garnered statewide interest as Valdosta first-year head coach Rush Propst was making his debut on the visitors sideline on Tom White Field at Mack Tharpe Stadium, where he had led the Packers to 119 victories and two state championships from 2008-2018.
His tenure at Colquitt County had featured high-production offenses and second halves in which his Packers characteristically out-performed their opponents.
None of that happened on Friday night.
Valdosta, 2-0 and ranked No. 1 Class 6A going into the game, scored a touchdown with 21 seconds left in the first half and added a field goal with 1:39 left in the third quarter.
Other than that, the Wildcats had little to offer, especially in the final two quarters.
Before its final possession, which came with Valdosta trailing by 14 with 35 seconds remaining, the Wildcats had managed just two first downs, 15 passing yards and had thrown a pair of interceptions, one of which Colquitt County linebacker Gamal Wallace returned for a touchdown, since halftime.
Rodemaker, who was the Wildcats head coach the last four seasons before being unceremoniously and inexplicably dumped after going 10-3 last year, said he still expects the Wildcats to do well this season.
But he also conceded that the Packers’ victory was just a little sweeter.
Packers head coach Justin Rogers said he knew going in that the Packers were good defensively, but would struggle on offense.
“And we did struggle, but the defense bowed their back and bailed us out,” he said.
Valdosta rushed for 142 yards and threw for 155 more, but the two interceptions, a lost fumble and two blocked punts showed that a Packers team that been in quarantine two weeks ago was further ahead of the curve defensively and on special teams.
The game, played in front of one of the largest crowds at The Mack in recent years, started slowly with neither team scoring in the first quarter, although the Packers got the first break when Wallace blocked a Valdosta punt in the closing seconds, giving Colquitt a first down on the Wildcats 10.
But the Packers were unable to capitalize and the Wildcats stopped Packers quarterback Xavier Williams short of the end zone on a fourth-and-goal from the 1 on the second play of the second quarter.
The Wildcats fumbled the ball away later in the quarter, but, again, the Packers were unable to make use of the turnover.
The Packers finally broke through when T.J. Spradley blocked a punt with 3:07 left in the first half. Sophomore linebacker Antwan Daniels picked the ball up and ran 22 yards to the end zone.
Emmanuel Perez added the extra point and the Packers had a 7-0 lead.
But Valdosta quickly countered, driving 90 yards to what would be its only touchdown.
Quarterback Amari Jones had two big completions in the drive, one an 18-yarder to Nevin Spivey and the other a 33-yarder to Aalah Brown.
Jones capped the drive with a 9-yard touchdown strike to Javonte Sherman and Angel Martinez tied the game with extra point with 21 seconds left in the half.
As it would happen, Jones completed just four passes for 50 yards for no touchdowns and two interceptions the rest of Valdosta’s frustrating night.
An interception by Valdosta’s Jacquez McGowan gave the Wildcats and first down at the Packers 35 with 3:47 left in the third quarter and a 20-yard run by Jones and a personal foul call on the Packers gave Valdosta a first down at the Colquitt 8.
But Colquitt held, forcing a 25-yard Martinez field goal that gave the Wildcats a short-lived 10-7 lead with 1:39 left in the half.
Williams and Lemeke Brockington had just missed connection twice earlier in the game on passes that appeared destined to be long touchdowns. Both fell incomplete.
But on a second-and-5 from the Packers 38, Williams hit the Packers streaking receiver in stride for a 62-yard score that helped put the Packers up 14-10 with 13 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Packers sacked Jones twice on Valdosta’s next possession and after a punt and a 31-yard Williams run, Colquitt pushed its lead to seven points on a 25-yard Perez field goal with 8:41 left in the game.
Perez then kicked off into the end zone and the Wildcats set up shop on their 20.
Jones was stopped for no gain on first down and second attempted a short pass to the right flat.
Wallace was the only player in either color jersey in the vicinity and he grabbed the ball and took it 17 yards to the end zone.
Perez added the final point of the game to give Colquitt a 24-10 lead with 7:55 remaining.
Valdosta punted away its next possession without making a first down and a diving interception by Omar Daniels ended the next with 1:37 left in the game.
The Wildcats got the ball one more time, but only 35 seconds were left before it was time to get on the bus.
Rodemaker couldn’t say enough about his defense. He said Valdosta knew what he was likely to run and often used two backs and a tight end to attack it.
“I really thought they did an excellent job,” he said of his former team. “But we were fortunate and somehow, we kept getting off the field.
“And in the second half, we really did get after them.”
He seemed pleasantly surprised the Packers were able to play as well as they did without the practice and conditioning they would normally have at this time of the year.
Williams finished 13-for-24 for 188 yards and one touchdown. He threw two interceptions but the Packers defense made sure they didn’t matter.
A senior in his first year as a starter, Williams also was the Packers leading rusher with 48 yards on 13 carries.
Colquitt had 96 net rushing yards, but was more effective on the ground in the second half, especially when Williams carried the ball.
The Packers, now 2-0, will travel to Dothan, Ala., to play the Wolves next Friday.
Valdosta, now 2-1, is scheduled to play host to Thomas County Central.
“We’re not any closer to winning a region title or a state title, but it’s always good to beat your rival,” Rogers said.