Westwood junior running back J.T. Edore has run wild in the Wildcats’ first two playoff games, rushing for a combined 564 yards and 8 touchdowns, and he enters Friday’s state title game against Valwood as the leading rusher with 1,575 yards and 23 TDs this year. (Larry G. Williams/Special to The Herald)
WHO: Westwood (11-2) at Valwood (13-0).
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
LIVE SCORING UPDATES: twitter.com/AlbHeraldsports.
CAMILLA — Ross Worsham sounded like a guy spitting out numbers at a speed bingo game, or a man in a hurry to fill in a lottery ticket.
“There’s 3, and 1 and 23 and 9 and 2,’’ said Worsham on Tuesday as he talked about the guys on Valwood’s football team who were dangerous.
And he was talking about only the skilled players.
Valwood’s real strength is in its offensive line, a huge, athletic group that’s led by Aulden Bynum, a 6-foot, 5-inch, 270-pound lineman who has committed to the University of Georgia.
That’s what Worsham’s Westwood football team is up against Friday night in Valdosta, where the kids from Camilla face their biggest challenge in years in the GISA Class AA state football championship game.
But no one at Westwood cares about the odds.
“It’s one more thing to prove,’’ Westwood quarterback Mitch Good said. “When we moved up in classification, everyone thought we wouldn’t win. We proved we could play in AA. We proved we could get to the playoffs, and now we’ve proven that we can get to the title game.
“There’s one thing left to prove now.’’
The Wildcats have already beaten the odds, making the move from A to AA, where they have beaten bigger and deeper teams all year and enter the state final with an 11-2 record. They went 26-0 during their last two years and won back-to-back Class A state titles, but this one would mean even more.
After all, Valwood beat Westwood earlier this year already — and it wasn’t even close.
No one at Westwood was used to losing — especially not, 48-18, which was the final score of the first meeting — and every kid felt that loss, felt it down deep.
“It was a pretty bad feeling,’’ said Good, who was then asked how long it took to get over the loss. “It’s still in there. It’s just a sickening feeling. It wasn’t our best game. We know we can play much better.’’
Valwood is unbeaten (13-0), averaging 40.9 points and 404 yards of offense a game, including 246 on the ground. Khary Paige has rushed for 1,512 yards and 24 touchdowns and has caught 13 passes for 261 yards and three more TDs.
“He could play anywhere,’’ Worsham said of Paige, who rushed for 186 yards and scored twice in last week’s 27-24 win against John Milledge in the state semifinals. “I coached at Lowndes for 12 years, and (Paige) could play for any big school. He’s really good.’’
Bynum and Valwood’s huge line, however, is the real problem.
“It’s not like (Bynum) is the only one. They average about 6-4 and 265-270 on the line,’’ Worsham said. “And it’s a not a sloppy 270. They’re athletic. Those kids are legit. They come off the ball.’’
Valwood has two quarterbacks. Jake Lassiter has thrown for 934 yards (62 of 122) and Tyler Williams has thrown for 861 yards (47 of 76) and they have combined for 22 touchdowns. Rashad Mathis leads the Valiants in receiving with 45 catches for 791 yards and nine TDs.
“They’re a big-play team,’’ Worsham said. “They have made big plays against everyone they’ve played. We have to stop the big play. We’ve got to tackle, and we’ve got to play hard for 48 minutes.’’
Dylan Larkin, who is a four-year starter at center, said Tuesday that’s what hurt Westwood in the first game against Valwood.
“We didn’t finish that game well,’’ Larkin said. “It was 13-6 at halftime, and it was still close with a few minutes left in the third quarter, but we got down in the fourth quarter and they scored a lot at the end. We’ve got to finish this game.’’
Westwood, which has won 37 of its last 39 games, lost only one game all year to a AA school and is peaking at the right time. After losing to Valwood, the Wildcats won five in a row, and have had three impressive wins in the playoffs, including a 35-20 win against last year’s Class AA runner-up Edmund Burke and a 40-28 romp against Brentwood in the semis last week. The Wildcats opened the playoffs with a 35-0 win against Briarwood and have outscored their playoff opponents 110-48.
“We’ve been on a pretty good run,’’ Worsham said. “Not many people would have given us much of a chance to get here. Moving up (to AA) and losing a good senior class, no one thought we would do much. But we’ve reached the state title game. That’s a testament to the kids. Winning this game would be some nice icing on the cake.’’
J.T. Edore has saved his best for the playoffs and has been ripping teams apart. He has gained 564 yards and scored eight touchdowns during the past two weeks, including a 237-yard four-touchdown game last week in the semifinals.
Edore, a junior, leads a powerful running game and has rushed for 1,575 yards on 164 carries (9.6 yard average) and 23 touchdowns in 12 games. Chason Worsham, a sophomore, has racked up 815 yards on 116 carries (7.0 average) and rushed for 14 TDs while catching 11 passes for 297 yards and three more touchdowns.
Good has been a leader all year and has rushed for 667 yards on 72 carries (9.2 average), thrown for 843 yards and he also leads the team in the secondary with five interceptions.
But the key for Westwood will be its defense, which is led by linebackers Jamie Davis, who has 89 tackles and 46 assists, and Jaques Irvin, who has made 73 tackles and 38 assists to go along with an interception. Brody Collins has four picks for the Wildcats, who will need some big plays in this game.
Westwood’s biggest weapon is the fact these kids have been here before and believe they can win.
“We know what it takes to win,’’ Davis said. “It takes a lot of heart and a lot of discipline. They’ve got a good team, but we’ve got a good team, and I wouldn’t trade anyone for them. We’ve been the underdog in the last two (state title) games the last two years. We believe we can beat them.’’
“It means everything,’’ Larkin said Tuesday at practice. “You have to know you are going to win and believe it. All of us believe it. We played them before, and we learned a lot from that game.
“They are a lot bigger, but look at (offensive lineman) Hayes Grogan. He’s 150 pounds, but he can play. He can do it. He’s aggressive. He’s smart. We all know what to do. We know all the technique and how to play the game. That’s a bigger part than size.’’
The Westwood kids embrace the idea of being the underdog and feel it’s an advantage.
“The pressure is on them, not us,’’ Good said.
“There’s a lot more pressure on them,’’ he said. “Everybody expects them to win because they beat us before, and they’re bigger than we are.
“But we know what it takes to win. We’ve been (to state title game) before, and all that success we’ve had and all the experience we’ve had helps. We know we can do it.’’
Worsham knows his kids are up against it, but he also knows that first game won’t matter when they kick off Friday night.
“Everyone wants a chance at redemption,’’ he said. “They beat us by 30, but we don’t think there’s 30 points difference between us. We didn’t play very well the last time. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve got a very talented football team.
“I know we will be a pretty big underdog. Losing stinks. There’s no other way to put it. We hate to lose. The greatest motivation to winning is hating to lose. That’s how we felt when they beat us. It’s something we used to make us better. We’ve played pretty well, and we got to where we wanted to be. Our plan is to go in there and play hard and win. We don’t have an alternate plan.’’
Now there’s just one more game, one chance for redemption and more.
Or as Good said: “One more thing to prove.’’