Aug. 20—VALDOSTA — The Lowndes Vikings' quest to end a 13-year drought begins Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
For the first time ever, the Vikings will face the Walton Raiders as part of the 2021 Corky Kell Classic.
The Vikings went 10-2 last season under first-year head coach Jamey DuBose — advancing to the GHSA Class 7A State Semifinals before falling 31-14 to eventual state runner-up Collins Hill.
Walton, a member of Region 3-7A, went 6-6 last season under head coach Daniel Brunner. The Raiders made it to the second round of the state playoffs before being eliminated by Vikings foe Colquitt County 35-12.
The closest the Vikings have gotten to the Raiders was when they knocked out Region 3-7A champion North Cobb 21-13 in the second round of the state playoffs last season.
For the Vikings, things begin and end with senior quarterback Jacurri Brown. The Miami signee proved why he's the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the country last year — throwing for 1,537 yards with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions while also rushing for 1,101 yards and 16 touchdowns. Brown had five 100-yard rushing games as a junior.
After losing many of his targets and go-to guys at receiver and running back, Brown will have a mostly all-new cast of characters flanking him on offense as the team returns just three starters on that side of the ball.
Wide receiver turned running back Chase Belcher is back and will be used primarily in the backfield after the loss of running backs Justin Lee and IJ Mitchell. As a receiver, Belcher caught 18 balls for 496 yards with six touchdowns as a junior — finishing second on the team in both touchdowns and yardage.
The Raiders' offense will be led by senior Zak Roszman. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder threw for 1,741 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions as a junior. Not only was he solid through the air, he did a little bit with his legs as well — rushing for 304 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Raiders are returning three of their top five receivers from last season, led by senior Rawson MacNeill. MacNeill caught 29 passes for 493 yards and three scores for a Raiders offense that averaged 206.7 yards per game through the air.
On the ground, the Raiders will also be returning three of their top five rushers as junior Braylen Stokes leads the way from the backfield. Stokes led the team with nine rushing touchdowns and ran for 612 yards last season. Behind Stokes will be senior Angelo Brown Jr., who carried the ball 38 times for 262 yards and three touchdowns as a junior.
Defensively, both teams will have to fill in several holes due to graduation.
The Vikings lost nine of their top 12 tacklers from as season ago, led by Jalon Baker, TJ Quinn and Travion Pope who combined for 183 stops last season. Among their defensive returners will be safety Josh Pickett, who led the team in solo tackles with 52, and Tylar Belcher, who led the team with six interceptions last year. Tylar is not expected to make his 2021 debut until midseason with an injury.
As the Vikings' preseason loss to Eagle's Landing Christian illustrated, the Vikings have a lot of questions to answer on that side of the ball as many returners will be first-time starters.
For the Raiders, Brown Jr. returns as their leading tackler from last season as he recorded 89 total tackles (59 solo) with 5.0 tackles for loss. Cade Thompson is back on defense for the Raiders as their third-leading tackler from last season. Thompson had 64 tackles and 2.0 tackles for loss.
Kickoff for Saturday afternoon's game is scheduled for 2:45 p.m.