Valwood overcomes adversity, beats Heritage 22-21
HAHIRA –– In a rollercoaster of a game that came down to the final play, the Valwood Valiants came out with their toughest victory of the year.
The game was a dog fight. Valwood took off with an early 12-0 lead in the first quarter, then the offense suddenly flatlined when quarterback Zach Paulk left the game injured.
Heritage then started scoring and Valwood couldn’t answer.
The Valiants didn’t score again until late in the third where big-time players made big-time plays. Aalah Brown caught a bomb from Pate Hogan and ran into the endzone for a 69-yard touchdown. Valwood finally started to get their swagger back while down 21-19.
After some more twists and turns and a Gatlin Kimbro field goal, the score was 22-21 with less than a minute left as Heritage lined up for a field goal roughly 30 yards out. This kick would’ve given Heritage the lead and could’ve won the game, but it fell short of the crossbar and it sealed Valwood’s win.
“I don’t know,” said Valwood Head Coach Justin Henderson when asked how his team fought through the adversity. “Wow, what a game. I mean it was ugly, it was ugly. I’ll take an ugly win over a good loss any day of the week. I don’t have a whole lot I can complain about right now. I’m sure there’ll be a lot more complaints when I watch the film, but they found a way to win and that’s important.”
Overcoming adversity is something Coach Henderson has preached since the first game, and this game gave them plenty of troubles.
Valwood came in with a couple players already sidelined to injury and the course of the game saw players get banged up and some more were sidelined. With a roster of just 30 or so guys, everybody is playing both sides of the ball, all game.
But just like the saying goes, when one man goes down one must step up, and today several players stepped up. But one stood out from the rest, and that was DB/WR Jaheim James.
James started the day by intercepting Heritage on their first drive of the game, setting up a Blaine Cooper touchdown run. He followed that with a 31-yard touchdown reception from Paulk’s throw, and James continued making plays on both sides, breaking up passes, and making catches.
James then came in clutch early in the fourth quarter with his second interception of the night. Heritage threw it deep, James made a great play on the ball and returned it close enough to set up a Kimbro field goal to give them the 22-21 lead.
“I knew I had to step up,” said James after the game. “Because last game I wasn’t doing so hot, I gave up touchdowns, passes for big gains, so I had to step it up… When our quarterback went down, we knew we had to step it up. It was just a strong feeling that we knew what we had to do, simple.”
James ended the game with 115 receiving yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions. Brown had another monster game after putting up 179 receiving yards last week, he finished this game with 151 yards and a touchdown.
Many players stepped up, players battled through injury, and the team fought their way through adversity together to secure a win that they desperately wanted. Coach Henderson couldn’t explain how they pulled it off, but he was elated to see that his team didn’t fold under pressure.
“(Against) North Florida we found a way to fight back and didn’t quite get over that hump,” said Henderson. “We lost a close one against Bowdon, and we found a way to get over that hump tonight. It doesn’t get any easier with regions starting in two weeks, but I’m going to enjoy this win this weekend.”
Valwood is now 2-2 on the season. They’ll have time to recover and reflect on this battle as next week is a bye.
This is a game Valwood can be proud of and most importantly they can learn from. There were many ups and downs, but they persevered. They found out what it takes to answer the call when down, we’ll see if they’ll be able to carry that on for the rest of the season.