Oct. 11—VALDOSTA — Smashmouth football.
In their final non-region game, the Valdosta Wildcats abandoned the pass almost entirely, opting for brute force to grind down the outmanned Westside Wolverines 48-6 Friday night.
The 'Cats (3-4) threw just two passes the entire game — both falling incomplete late in the second quarter. Instead, the 'Cats ran the ball 48 times for 328 yards — scoring five rushing touchdowns.
"I've never called this many runs in one game," Valdosta head coach Shelton Felton said. "I was determined to get us going and get our O-line going because in order for us to compete and win the region, the O-line has to be a big part of it and we're going to run behind them."
Senior running back Terrell Denson led the ground-and-pound attack for the 'Cats with 15 carries for a team-high 139 yards and two touchdowns. Fellow senior Kaleb Robinson had 13 carries for 88 yards and one score, while junior Ahmad Denson had nine carries for 31 yards and two touchdowns.
The 'Cats picked up their second consecutive win ahead of their Region 1-6A opener at Northside next week.
"We're trying to get ready for region play and we wanted to work on some things and fine-tune some blocks," Felton said. "The biggest thing is we're working on Valdosta. We worked on that all week and we meant to run the ball and that's what we did. We came out with a run-first mentality."
Defensively, six different 'Cats combined for eight sacks — led by senior Jacquez McGowan and junior Jashon Alford who had two each. The defense held Westside to 162 yards total offense and forced four fumbles — all of which were recovered by Valdosta.
"We controlled the line of scrimmage. We brought a lot of pressure to them and they couldn't really handle it," Felton said. "The biggest thing on defense, we've got to play at a high level from the first snap to the last snap. We missed a couple tackles, but overall, I thought our kids played well on defense."
Not only did the 'Cats hurt the Wolverines with the run, they scored two touchdowns on special teams as they recovered a botched snap on a punt, then punctuated the blowout win with a blocked punt and touchdown in the end zone by Jaylen Bentley with 5:35 left in the third quarter.
With its running game thriving, the 'Cats harassed the Wolverines' offense and were disruptive on special teams. Late in the fourth quarter, the 'Cats had rattled Wolverines sophomore punter Alex Guevarra into a punt that slid off the edge of his boot for less than five yards.
"It's key," Felton said of the blocked punts and fumble recoveries. "We preach all three phases. On all three phases, we want to be aggressive. We were able to block a couple tonight and it should've been one or two more. It's always key to score on special teams, so we were very excited about all three phases tonight."
Ahmad Denson scored both of his touchdowns in the second quarter as Valdosta built a 28-6 cushion by halftime.
Terrell Denson got the 'Cats on the board with a 25-yard touchdown in the first quarter, then answered a Wolverines rushing touchdown with a one-yard run of his own to put Valdosta ahead 14-6 early in the second quarter.
Wolverines quarterback Jordan Campbell completed 5 of 10 passes for 87 yards and had 10 carried for 23 yards with the team's lone touchdown to his credit.
Wolverines wide receiver Dejon Gillins caught two passes for a game-high 57 yards in the loss — the Wolverines' sixth straight after winning their season opener.
Valdosta travels to Warner Robins next Friday to face the Northside Eagles (5-2), who defeated Luella 34-3 Friday night.
Despite being banned from the postseason, the 'Cats have made it to region play with momentum. Generating motivation for the team hasn't been easy, Felton acknowledges, but he expressed pride in how the team has stayed the course over the first seven games.
"It's starting to kick in," Felton said. "The biggest thing about my kids, and I'm very proud of them...we're still fighting. They know there's no postseason. They know it's down to three games, but they haven't stopped fighting and our goal is to win the region championship. We're going to play hard every night and we're going to play Wildcat football."
Shane Thomas is the sports editor at the Valdosta Daily Times.