Usually when a team has to travel to enemy turf, racks up over 100 yards in penalties, and has multiple turnovers, it doesn’t result in a win; the Valdosta Wildcats proved to be a notable exception on a huge stage.The Wildcats, behind the lights-out performance of MVP Seth Shuman, won their second consecutive Winnersville Classic, this time in Martin Stadium by the score of 17-7.
Although the final score seems to indicate a close game, the contest never really seemed to be out of the control of Valdosta. The Wildcat offense marched up and down the field all night long while the Viking offense was never able to produce a point-scoring drive.The difference in the game seemed to come down to the battle in the trenches, and Valdosta arose as the clear victor. Shuman’s passing efficacy was largely a result of more than ample time in the pocket. With a cannon for an arm and the quicks to avoid what little pressure he did experience, Shuman picked apart the Viking secondary, primarily over the middle of the field. Lowndes did hand Shuman his very first interception of the year on their own goal line, but it proved to be too little due to offensive inefficiency.
Lowndes’ offense never caught its stride against the Cats’ defense. Austin Dixon was unable to get the Vikings going in the air or on the ground, putting up modest numbers on the night despite having a great season. The defensive front 7 of Valdosta plugged up the run game, and Lowndes’ inability to connect on the deep ball proved fatal.
If it were not for some red zone turnovers and one of the craziest kickoff returns in recent memory, the game would have been even more one-sided. It was Valdosta’s time to shine, and Lowndes certainly didn’t perform up to their own standard, but check out our Top 5 Players from both teams in this year’s Classic:
1) Seth Shuman clearly tops our list, earning the Most Valuable Player Award for the Great American Rivalry Series. Going 22-38 for 294 yards and 1 TD in the air was compounded by his 30+ yards rushing towards another TD. His composure, evasiveness, field vision, arm strength, accuracy, and decision-making ability put him as arguably the most college-ready QB in 1-6A.
2) Michael Barrett was the bright spot in an otherwise dark Lowndes performance. While there were glimmers of greatness from other Lowndes players, Barrett’s play remained consistently stellar. His goal line interception and forced fumble in the red zone stopped Valdosta from turning it into an insurmountable lead. And where the Lowndes offense couldn’t produce points, he picked up the slack and pulled off a miraculous, albeit fortunate, kickoff return for the Vikings. Barrett’s grit and determination kept Lowndes in this game until the very end.
3) Wesley Veal made his presence known on Friday as Shuman’s go-to target. Hauling in 7 catches for 133 yards and a TD, Veal provided just what the Cats needed to dismantle the Viking secondary. Although Veal isn’t overwhelming in size, his route running, sure hands, and spacial awareness consistently make him a reliable target for his star quarterback.
4) Jayce Rogers‘ game-sealing interception was his main moment of glory, but I took note of his play throughout the entire game. Eliminating each one of Lowndes’ downfield pass attempts, Rogers was an important component of the stifling Wildcats defense with his interception, numerous solo tackles, and multiple pass deflections.
5) Todd Bradley, largely heralded as the anchor of the Cats defense, wreaked havoc in the backfield. Of his 10 tackles, 3 were for loss. His size, strength, and nose for the ball make for the perfect linebacker, and he racked up the stats yet again. The senior is looking to lead the Wildcats in a win over Lee County on Friday, launching them into the playoffs on a winning streak.
Need proof? Watch the full highlight video below to see each of these incredible efforts and performances.