Rash of turnovers doom Valiants in loss to Eagles

HAHIRA, Ga. — Turnovers, busted protections and fatigue setting in on a weary defense — nothing seemed to go right as the Valwood Valiants couldn't keep pace in a 31-7 loss to North Florida Christian Eagles on Friday night.

After sacking Valwood quarterback Caleb Burns on fourth-and-3 to turn the Valiants over on downs, NFC pounded in a 7-yard touchdown run by Von Hayes with 35.8 seconds left in the third quarter capped a 13-play, 40-yard drive for the Eagles' final score of the night.

On the night, the Valiants (3-1) turned the ball over five times and allowed Burns to be sacked five times as the Eagles (2-1) handled them their worst home loss since 2016.

"They were bringing five studs right at us, speed rushing the whole time and you try to call stuff to counter that," Valwood coach Justin Henderson said. "Those guys were just good and they were making plays. Towards the end of the game, protection really broke down."

The Eagles opened the second half attacking the Valiants on the ground behind running backs Deon Cosby and Jonathan Railey. The Valiants stopped Railey short of the first-down marker to bring up fourth-and-inches from the 45-yard line.

Rather than run it on fourth down, the Eagles went to the air as quarterback Brayden Phillips found Preston Reece uncovered for a 55-yard touchdown to go ahead 24-7 with 9:53 to go in the third quarter.

"We left a receiver uncovered," Henderson said. "That's embarrassing...You can't do that against anybody, I don't care who it is. You're gonna give up a big play with stuff like that, so...too many big plays on defense, too many turnovers on offense...Go back to work on Monday."

Trailing 12-7 after Phillips' 13-yard toss to Hayes with 4:52 left in the first half, the Valiants looked as if they were about to find a spark. The Eagles opted for an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, but Eli Joyner snuffed out the attempt and recovered the ball on the 49-yard line — giving the Valiants favorable field position.

However, two plays into the drive, Willie Roberson fumbled on second-and-4 to give the ball back to the Eagles. Cosby and Railey combined for all 54 yards on an eight-play scoring drive that saw Railey power the ball in from the goal line to put the Eagles in front 18-7 with 47.6 seconds left in the half.

"Defensively, we did not do a good job on the edge," Henderson said. "That's one of the things we stress all the time. This is the first game I've seen in two-and-a-half, three years of coaching this defense that we didn't protect the edge and that can't happen."

Although the Valiants thwarted the Eagles' two-point conversion attempt, the score seemingly demoralized the crowd at Goddard Field as a shocked hush came over the stadium.

The Valiants got behind the proverbial eight-ball in the first quarter, as Burns looked to throw on a third-and-10 pass intended for Zach Paulk, but Hayes broke on the ball to intercept it and take it back for a touchdown to give the Eagles a 6-0 lead with 7:58 to go in the first quarter.

Following an interception of their own from Luke Eager, the Valiants marched down the field with big runs by Roberson and Ashton McNeil. McNeil's 7-yard touchdown run and Robbie Evans' extra point punctuated an 11-play, 73-yard scoring drive and gave the Valiants a 7-6 lead with 10:25 left in the second quarter.

Henderson pointed to the lack of ball security and defensive struggles as keys as his team saw its three-game winning streak halted.

"Poor tackling, five turnovers, you can't not tackle and you can't turn the ball over and win a game," Henderson said. "I saw a bunch of kids fight their tails off tonight, but we just made the big errors in the worst times. That would be my assessment of that game."

UP NEXT

The Valiants travel to Newnan next Friday to face the undefeated Heritage Hawks (4-0).