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By Shane Thomas email@example.com
HAHIRA –– On Senior Night, in front of a near-capacity crowd at Goddard Field, the Valwood Valiants (8-3, 2-2 GISA Region 3-3A) pulled their feet from the fire in a 28-14 win against their heated rivals, the Deerfield-Windsor Knights (5-5, 0-4) on Friday night.
Valwood senior wide receiver Treb Wetherington welcomed everyone in attendance to his coming out party. And not a moment too soon.
An 84-yard touchdown connection from Deerfield’s Jack Kimbrel to John Logan combined with a 35-yard extra-point by Parker Orlowski with 3:03 to go in the fourth quarter stunned the home crowd.
Senior quarterback Caleb Burns led the Valiants down the field with a six-play, 61-yard drive, culminating in a two-point conversion by Wetherington to put the Valiants ahead 21-14 with 1:09 to go.
“It was our last game at home as seniors,” Wetherington said of the win. “When your brother falls, you pick him up and hold the team. And that’s what we did.”
Wetherington wasn’t done there.
With the Knights needing to go 64 yards to even the score, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound senior picked off Kimbrel on a second down pass and went 48 yards to the house to ice the Valiants’ third straight victory.
Wetherington said of the play, “I just watched the quarterback’s eyes and when I saw the ball leave his hand, I said, ‘Oh yeah, this is mine.'”
On the night, Wetherington was thrown to four times and caught four passes for 68 yards. Two of his catches were of highlight reel variety –– a spectacular one-handed snag on a key third-down for 33 yards to set up the Valiants’ first score of the night late in the second quarter most notably.
On first-and-17 midway through the fourth quarter, Burns aired out a deep pass for Wetherington down the right side near the Deerfield sideline. Wetherington leapt with the Deerfield defender and reached over his head to retrieve the lob for a 26-yard gain.
“I don’t understand where this guy has been all season,” Valwood coach Justin Henderson said. “If the ball’s in the air, right now, it’s Treb Wetherington’s ball. That was on offense a couple times tonight, and we were going with our three deep package most of the night and finally got a passing situation against a team that runs it 75 percent of the time and put him in and the last thing I told them was take away the inside post. He jumped it and at first I was saying, ‘Get down, let’s run the clock out,’ but the sideline turned and yelled ‘Go, go go.” What an exciting night for him and the rest of the seniors to go out.”
Throughout much of the season, Wetherington had struggled to bring in balls thrown his way. Prior to the Valiants’ three-game win streak, the senior had just four catches for eight yards all season.
A broken collarbone suffered by junior receiver Zach Paulk in a 49-21 win against Loganville Christian on Oct. 19 thrust Wetherington into a more prominent role as a deep threat in the Valwood offense. Wetherington caught two passes for 25 yards against the Lions.
Last week in the Valiants’ 56-42 win against Brookwood, Wetherington was targeted seven times and caught four passes for 97 yards and his first two touchdown receptions of the season –– his first catch of the game was a 60-yard scoring strike from Burns in the first quarter.
After perhaps his most impactful game of the season, Wetherington earned praise from Burns for responding well to his expanded role.
“Treb came out of nowhere, let me tell you,” Burns said smiling. “He had a case of the dropsies (most of the year) but all of the sudden, Zach goes down, next man up mentality and I think he’s done an outstanding job. Even in practice, he hasn’t dropped a ball in three weeks. He’s just been lighting it up and he’s been that threat for us. Even with the interception, the pick-6, he’s just coming through in clutch situations.”
After every Valwood home game, the team and the home fans convene at the north end of the field. With chilly gusts of wind and temperatures plummeting into the low-50s, everyone hung around just a little while longer. On one of the coldest nights of the season, Henderson declared to his team, ‘This is the hottest team in the state.’
Riding the wave of three straight wins heading into next week’s road playoff game against Augusta Prep Day, the Valiants are peaking at the right time.
“The playoffs are (here), last year it was all about who was hot, this year it’s the same,” Burns said. “Like coach said, we’re the hottest team in GISA football right now and we’re coming out in practice, we’re coming out to these games and we’re showing everybody in the state why we should be No. 1.”
And Wetherington, once a liability downfield, has emerged as an X-factor in time for the Valiants’ playoff run.
“I think we’ve got it,” Wetherington said. “We’re working together really well as a team. That’s all we need, really. We’re good, we just haven’t been showing it. But now that we’re starting to click, it’s there.”