Westwood's Chason Worsham runs a gain against Valwood early in the first quarter of Friday's GHSA Class AA state title game. (Brandon Powers/Valdosta Daily Times)
VALDOSTA -- Westwood thought it set the tone when it returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in the GISA Class AA State Championship. It was called back for a block in the back.
And that set the real tone of this one.
Things didn’t go so well after that for the Wildcats, who fell, 48-13, to Valwood, which capped a perfect season at 14-0.
The Wildcats' run of two consecutive state titles came to an end, but it took a larger classification and a collection of stars in Valdosta to do it.
The Valiants' Khary Paige celebrated his 18th birthday with a state title and 169 yards rushing on 11 carries with two touchdowns to lead Valwood to its first state championship.
"I've been coaching here seven years and that's the best team I've coached against by far," Westwood head coach Ross Worsham said. "They're loaded. They're big up front, and they've got depth at the skills positions. There's just no weaknesses."
Westwood did everything it could to keep it close, but the Wildcats took a dagger to the heart at the end of the first half when --- while trailing by a manageable 21-6 score --- a high punt snap over punter J.T. Edore's head with 12 seconds left in the half. It was recovered by Valwood's Gerrick Williams in the end zone to give the Valiants a commanding 28-6 lead at the break.
"We kind of got down (after that) and we didn't pick it back up like we needed to," Edore said.
Added Worsham, "We were just trying to get to halftime and regroup to have a shot. When they went up 28-6 that's a pretty big mountain to climb against (Valwood)."
Westwood was led by Dylon Smith's 84 yards rushing, which included a 64-yard scoring run in the third quarter to cut the Valiants' lead to 35-13.
J.T. Edore, who ran for more than 1,500 yards on the season, was held to 57 yards rushing. Chason Worsham ran for 59 yards in the loss.
"They were stacking (the box) and slowing the run down," Edore said. "Those big people are hard to move. They were strong."
Valwood (14-0) ran for 189 yards in the first half, getting an 11-yard touchdown run from Paige with 9:09 left in the second quarter. After Marike Merine's 2-point run, the Valiants led, 14-6, once both teams traded scores early and missed extra points.
Westwood had taken an early 6-0 lead on Mitch Good's 23-yard touchdown run on its first possession, but nothing came easy after that.
"We came out ready to play and won the first quarter," the coach said. "I didn't think they would wear on us that quick and maybe that's not what happened, but that dadgum No. 3 (Paige), he's good. We didn't tackle him well again --- and he made us pay for it."
Valwood had beaten Westwood by 30 in the regular season, 48-18, but Valiants' first-year head coach Ashley Henderson expected an energized Wildcats team to come back to Goddard Field for payback.
"They're a heck of a football team," Henderson said. "We knew they were going to come in here with a chip on their shoulder and they did. They gave us all we wanted. We didn't come out slow, they came out swinging."
Edore was held to 38 yards on 12 carries in the first half and the Wildcats' power rushing game was held to under 100 yards in the first two quarters.
Valwood quarterback Jake Lastinger threw two TDs in the first half, one to Cher Merine on a 39-yard pitch and score and another to Allan Taylor.
Valwood outgained Westwood 285-114 in the first half. Westwood fell to 11-3 and has now only lost three games in its last 40, two of which have come at the hands of Valwood.
"We came expecting to win," Edore said.
Westwood loses six seniors who led them to back-to-back Class A titles, but returns a wealth of talent for another run in 2013.
"We've got a real good core group coming back," Worsham said. "We'll expect to do it again next year."