CAMILLA — Riding a five-game winning streak, the Westwood Wildcats were hoping to taste a little revenge Friday night at Centennial Stadium against region rival Valwood.
Instead, Westwood walked away with that same bitter taste it had after last season’s GISA Class AA state title game.
In a rematch of that game, which Valwood won 48-13, the Valiants demonstrated their dominance yet again, knocking off the Wildcats, 28-7.
The game was closer, at times, than the score indicates. Westwood head coach Ross Worsham was pleased with his team’s effort, however overmatched they proved to be. “I thought the effort was good,” Worsham said. “We just got beat by a good football team tonight. They made a few more plays than we did. Hats off to them, but our guys did play hard.”
“We knew it’d be a dogfight. We expect nothing less from them. I felt good about where we were and how it all ended, but we knew we couldn’t let our guard down against them. We know they’re not afraid to pull out all the stops. Those teams believe in that coaching staff, and there’s not a finer coach than coach Worsham around.”
The Wildcats (5-2-1) were overwhelmed offensively, gaining less than 50 yards in the first half. Valwood (7-0) dominated the time of possession, running 42 plays to the Wildcats’ 16. Senior Seth Carlo managed the game efficiently, with the help of junior tailback Zane Edmonson and two brothers, receiver and tailback, Char and Marik Merine. Carlo accounted for 175 total yards and a touchdown before the break.
The visitors knew the importance of tonight’s matchup. With both schools sitting atop region 3-IAA, the game was pivotal for playoff seeding.
“We had this game circled all year,” said Valwood coach Ashley Henderson. “We respect their program and coach Worsham so much. We knew what we were coming into this week. We had our best week of practice this season, came out and gave our best effort of the year.”
The home team’s defense spending so much time on the field played a huge role in the loss. With key contributors playing both sides of the ball, it effectively neutralized the Wildcats’ attack. “For the most part,” Worsham said. “It especially does when it’s the same guys playing offense and defense. They fought hard trying to get the ball, and we usually did deep in our own territory. Fatigue set in.”
The trauma came from a different source almost every snap. If Edmondson wasn’t churning through the line, it was Marik Merine. If Merine didn’t have the ball, Carlo would fire a dart out to Char Merine. If neither of those had the ball, Carlo took off on a quarterback keeper.
“Marik’s probably our most dynamic player,” Henderson said of the younger sibling. “Char’s been out for about five weeks with a broken rib. He came back today and announced his return loud. Both of those kids are great football players and better young men.”
While the Wildcats’ defense did the best they could, the offense just couldn’t take advantage of the few breaks they did catch. After drives in which they forced punts, forced a fumble, or turnovers on downs, the Valiants’ defense proved too much to overcome.
“We’ve just got to go look at film, go back to work, and try to fix what caused all that,” Worsham said. “They’re big and strong up front, they beat us up on both sides of the ball. Our defense didn’t do that bad, we just couldn’t produce offensively.”
Chason Worsham led the Wildcats with 43 total yards. Dylon Smith added 15 receiving yards to go with his 89-yard kickoff return. Senior quarterback Ralph Collins added 100 total yards in a losing effort.
“We came out and gave it all we had,” said senior JT Edore, “We just made some mistakes. We played against a great team with a great offensive line and good runners. We just finally wore out.”
“We just have to get back to work,” Worsham reiterated. “We can control what we do, we can’t control what else happens. We just have to win the last two games and let the chips fall.”
The elder Merine, Char, got things started with a shifty 53-yard catch-and-run on the first drive of the game, striking first blood for the Valiants. After the Wildcats’ offense sputtered on the next possession, Carlo led Valwood down the field yet again, capping a four-minute drive with a three-yard plunge from Marik Merine to stretch their lead to 14-0 with 8:26 left in the half.
For a moment, it seemed this one would get a tad interesting as on the ensuing kickoff, senior Dylon Smith found a lane and scooted 89 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead to seven. The touchdown was the third the Valiants have given up on kick returns all year. Westwood forced a punt on their next possession, but couldn’t make any more headway.
After a 74-yard drive two possessions later, capped by a nine-yard run by Char Merine, the Valiants would push their lead to 21-7 before the half.
Zane Edmondson capped off the Valiants’ opening drive of the second half, pushing the score to 28-7 on a beautiful 37-yard option run. Seth Carlo pitched the ball with perfect timing, and as a result, Edmondson was virtually untouched on his way to the endzone.
Marik Merine finished with 18 carries for 112 yards and two touchdowns, while Zane Edmondson finished with 20 carries for 146 yards and a touchdown. Char Merine finished with 7 catches for 164 yards and a touchdown. Seth Carlo went 11-for-17 with 138 yards and a touchdown.
Westwood will host Southwest Georgia Academy next Friday, while Valwood hosts Brookwood School in Valdosta.