Valiants, Knights duel in state semis rematch

August 23, 2018

Two teams with state championship aspirations do battle tonight in St. Simons.

The last time the Valwood Valiants (1-0) went to St. Simons, they came from behind to shock the Frederica Academy Knights (0-1) 14-10 in the semifinals of the GISA state playoffs.

The Valiants went on to the state championship game and hoisted their third state championship trophy in six seasons.

"Our focus in the prep this week is that Bowdon had some great athletes that could take it the distance," Valwood head coach Justin Henderson said. "These guys have great athletes that can take it the distance in about 0.2 seconds any time they touch the ball.

"It's a highlight show every time you play them whether they get yards on you or not. Even if you stop them for no gain, it's entertaining to watch because they're such great athletes and they're running around like gazelles. You just hope you get more at the point of attack than they've got. It's a fun game to coach in, nerve-wracking but it's a fun game to watch."

The Knights have plenty of playmakers to throw at the Valiants tonight. Players such as senior running back Isaiah Jackson, senior receiver Jashawn Sheffield and Jaylin Simpson have been high on the Valiants' priority list this week.

Last week, the Valiants traveled 4 hours and 37 minutes to Bowdon and came away with a 21-20 victory on the road against the Red Devils.

Valwood quarterback Caleb Burns opened his senior season with an efficient 11-of-20 passing display for 98 yards and two scores –– both of which went to newcomer Jaheim James, who finished with three catches for 52 yards.

During the preseason, Henderson believed his team would be able to run the ball efficiently. Against Bowdon, Valwood ran the ball 33 times for 218 yards as Burns, Cam Carter and Willie Roberson each broke runs of at least 20 yards in the game.

Despite their offense jumping out to a 21-7 lead, Henderson was far from pleased with his defense, which he said "laid an egg" last week.

"Early, we had a hard time adjusting to the speed of our opponents," Henderson said. "We had a lot of bad angles on some tackles and then I felt like we settled down, man. We had five or six series with punts or turnovers and we came out in the second half the defense kind of laid an egg in the second half.

"That's been their challenge this week. We couldn't get off the field. (Bowdon) went for about a 9-minute drive to start the third quarter. That's our challenge this week –– to finish the game. We went into the half 21-7 feeling good about ourselves and we came out happy to escape with a win."