Valiants look to 'clean up mistakes' against Irish

August 30, 2018

VALDOSTA –– After a pair of nail-biting road wins, the Valwood Valiants (2-0) welcome some home cooking tonight against the Notre Dame Academy Irish (0-2) in Hahira.

The Valiants snuck past rival Frederica Academy Knights last week 7-6 as a Willie Roberson six-yard touchdown run gave them the lead in overtime and Eli Joyner's stop on a two-point conversion denied the Knights the victory.

Valwood coach Justin Henderson wants his team to do a better job of finishing off drives than it did last week, as they failed to cash in on numerous chances to score against the Knights. With many players battling bumps and bruises, Henderson admits practice has been light on contact this week.

"A lot of mental reps this week," Henderson said. "It wasn't real physical to be honest because the game (against Frederica) was so physical, we're kind of beat up a little bit going into this week.

"We spent a lot of mental reps and a lot of film time just trying to clean up mistakes because offensively, it was like one person on each play, one out of 11 would bust and that would be the guy that would make the play or the position that would cause the no gain or the penalty. We had a really good teaching week. We kept it as hard-nosed as we could but we knew we had to manage our kids this week."

The Irish come into tonight's game reeling after being shut out by the Academy for Classical Education 27-0 last week. Through their first two games, the Irish have been outscored 90-9.

Henderson has used game film from last year's playoff game against Burke Academy to get his defense focused for tonight's game with Irish, who run a similar option offense.

"Well, they run the option," Henderson said of the Irish. "As we saw last year in the first round of the playoffs, that's kind of been what I've used to scare them with was Burke Academy. We were obviously the better team last year against Burke, but they had two drives to start the game against one of the best defenses I've ever coached before and we couldn't slow them down. That's been our motivation––assignment football, they run the option and they run it pretty well. But, if everybody does their job and keeps their assignments and not try to do too much, we should be fine."

Valwood quarterback Caleb Burns struggled against the Knights last week, completing just 13-of-32 passes for 143 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. 

For Burns, it was his first game as a Valiant without a passing touchdowns––ending his streak at 14 games.

"He missed one or two but, in my opinion––and this is me being even partial to Valwood's secondary––(Frederica's) got the best secondary in the state," Henderson said. "There's no bones about it. Those athletes out there wide are great players. I think Caleb understood that coming out. He threw a touchdown pass late against them last year but it was three-yard touchdown pass. He knew what he was going against in the secondary so we've got to do a better job of opening up some passing lanes."

Home-field advantage figures to be huge for the Valiants as they have won 39 of their last 43 home games over the past six seasons.

"They're excited," Henderson said of his team. "This is the first time we've ever started the year, since I've been here, with back-to-back road games. They're excited to play in front of their home crowd. The students are excited about going to home football games, the fans are excited so it should be a good crowd. That's gonna serve as extra motivation for us and I expect us to be a lot sharper."