Burns, Valwood offense finds rhythm against NDA

September 1, 2018


HAHIRA –– The Valwood offense scored seemingly at will against an overmatched Notre Dame Academy defense on Friday night.

A week after scoring just seven points in an overtime win against Frederica Academy, the Valiants tripled that total in the first quarter against the Irish.

Bay Moorman powered in a 21-yard touchdown run on the Valiants' opening drive before quarterback Caleb Burns lofted a pair of short touchdowns to Jaheim James and Zach Paulk to make it a 21-0 game after one quarter.

"We just wanted to do a better job this week of getting Caleb going, giving him some rhythm throws instead of throwing the ball down the field as much," Valwood coach Justin Henderson said. "Caleb's a 17-year-old kid. He puts pressure on himself so as soon as he starts feeling good, he gets hot and then he's on. I felt like he was in the zone today and it was nice to see him get some much-needed completions and touchdowns. Hopefully, this will be the spark to get him going and get the offense as a whole going."

After leaving the game briefly in favor of Paulk, Burns returned late in the second quarter to hit senior wide receiver Luke Eager for a 13-yard score for the Valiants' final touchdown of the night with 3:46 left before halftime.

With a light week of practice leading up to Friday's game, Burns credits more work with his receivers for the first-half outburst.

"It was good," Burns said. "Our receivers moved really fast this week and we've been focusing on catching the ball, running crisp routes and we came out, we got on them early and we did what we had to do."

Newcomer Jaheim James has emerged as Burns' new go-to guy downfield through the first three games. James caught a touchdown pass from Burns and Paulk against the Irish, giving him four receiving touchdowns in the first three games.

James isn't the only weapon Burns has at the ready this season and Burns spoke at length about each of them after Friday's win.

"We've got Jaheim, that's a 4.6-flat kind of guy and he's only a sophomore so good things come from him a lot," Burns said. "I trust him on any deep ball I've got.

"We've got Zach Paulk, he's about 6-1, 6-2, lanky, runs a solid 4.6, 4.7––he's probably going to be our biggest red zone target. We've got Ashton McNeil, No. 3, he's gonna play our slot––really fast, physical guy. He can move the ball up really quick. And then, our best weapon I would think is Matt Hardy. He's just got great hands, got good size, he moves well and he's really fast."

In addition to a plethora of new receivers, the Valiants are also well-stocked at the running back position with seniors such as Moorman, Cam Carter and Willie Roberson.

Though the Valiants had a solid group last year with Carter, Colby Thomas and Sam Martin coming out of the backfield, Burns feels this year's group behind an improved offensive line gives the offense a new dimension.

"Last year, it was a struggle," Burns said of the running game. "We knew we could throw it better than we could run it and this year, I think it's kind of flipped. We've got seniors on every side of the ball but I think our O-line and our running backs, they're ready to go, man. They come out with fire in their hearts and they're ready to run."

The Valiants' offense will be tested next week when North Florida Christian (1-1) visits Goddard Field. The Eagles (1-1) scored late to edge the Valiants 18-13 last September.

Henderson downplayed any notion of revenge but insists the upcoming week of practice won't be hard to get up for leading up to the game.

"I just think we need to lock in from Monday through Friday, do what we do," Henderson said. "All that revenge stuff, that lasts about two plays then you're playing football and calling your offense and calling your defense against what they do.

"It will help us in the week of preparation, what happened last year, there's no doubt about that. I think the kids have had this one circled and it'll be a fun week of practice. It won't be one of those weeks of practice where we have to push them to get going. You tell them North Florida and they're ready to go."