MOULTRIE -- For those who thought Valdosta might be ripe for picking off this season, what with a new coach and three losses, here's another thought from one who should know.

"They have gotten so much better than they were when they played Ware County (and lost 28-14 back on Sept. 26)," Packers coach Mike Singletary said. "It's like two different teams.

"They've got more weapons on offense than anyone we've played except Thomas County Central. They're as good a football team as we've seen."

Many, perhaps with wishful thinking, may have written the Wildcats off last month when the loss to the Gators left them with a 1-3 record.

Since then, the Wildcats have defeated Charlton County 38-14, Tift County 43-0, Lowndes 28-26 and Lee County 47-0.

Valdosta is now 5-3 overall and 3-0 in the region and only needs to beat Colquitt County and Coffee to wrap an undefeated Region 1-AAAAA championship that many had believed was beyond its grasp.

It may be that it just took awhile for the team to get used to the system installed by new coach Rick Darlington, brought in from Apopka, Fla., to replace the fired Mike O'Brien.

And, it should be remembered, Valdosta played its first two games without senior quarterback Cedric Hatten, who was benched for disciplinary reasons.

Hatten, who engineered the upset of Lowndes two weeks, ago, is an excellent runner and passer and has plenty of other ordnance at his disposal.

Big senior tight end Cedric Hill is fast enough to also play wide receiver and is big enough to block for a fine pair of running backs.

Singletary said all three Wildcat receivers -- Marvin Reed, Steve Dawson and Shawn Berrien -- are legitimate targets for Hatten.

Veteran running backs Willie Cowart and Corey James "are very, very physical," Singletary said.

And up front, the Wildcats have two of the top offensive linemen in the region.

"Defensively, they play a lot of people," Singletary said. "They play a 4-3, but it's not like Coffee's. They are not as much up-the-field."

The Wildcats boom most kickoffs into the end zone, but Singletary said he is unsure about Valdosta's punting game.

"We just haven't seen them punt much," he said.

The Packers have more victories than any other school against Valdosta, but the Wildcats still hold a 62-22-4 advantage.

The Packers had a great run in the 1990s against the program that has won 23 state and six national championships.

Although Valdosta won state championships in 1990, 1992 and 1998, the Packers were 13-4 against the Wildcats from 1990-1999.

And between 1993-1999, Colquitt went 9-1 against Valdosta, beating the Wildcats twice in both 1994 and 1997.

The second victory in 1994, a 23-10 decision at Mack Tharpe Stadium, gave the Packers their only state championship.

Singletary was Colquitt County's defensive coordinator on all those teams that beat Valdosta in the 1990s, but is still looking for his first head coaching victory over the Wildcats.

Since taking over in 2000, Singletary has seen his teams fall to Valdosta each of the last three seasons: 16-7 in 2000, 35-12 in 2001 and 19-7 last season at Mack Tharpe Stadium.

The last three years, Singletary squared off against O'Brien, who was fired las year despite going 70-20-1 with a state championship in seven seasons.

Singletary and O'Brien, who was once at Colquitt County assistant coach, have remained close and talk at least once a week. O'Brien is now at Woodstock High, which is 5-4 after having not won a game the last two seasons.

"I've got a lot of personal incentive to get them," Singletary said.

So should the Packers, who are 5-3 overall and 2-1 in the region. A victory at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium on Friday would give the Packers a legitimate shot at the region championship.

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