Valdosta, the nation’s most successful high school football program, hadn’t won a state championship since 1998 or even played for one since 2003.
When the Wildcats finally got another opportunity, they quickly made the most of it, jumping out to a 14-0 lead on their first two possessions and making it stand up in a 17-7 victory over Tucker in the Class AAAAAA final Friday at the Georgia Dome.
The top-ranked Wildcats (14-1), playing in the second-highest classification for the first time in six decades, captured their 24th state title, easily the most in state history. Fourth-ranked Tucker finished 13-2 and fell short in its attempt to win its third championship in nine years.
Quarterback Josh Belton threw touchdown passes of 35 yards to Damarrias Morrow and 17 yards to JR Ingram for a 14-0 lead with 2:03 to play in the first quarter. A 44-yard field goal by Davis Baldwin on the final play of the second quarter gave Valdosta a 17-0 halftime lead.
After being outgained 230-86 in the first two quarters, Tucker got its offense going in the second half and made a game of it. Chris Broadwater’s 8-yard touchdown run with 2:03 to play in the third quarter cut the lead to 17-7, and the Tigers got deep into Valdosta territory early in the fourth but turned the ball over on downs at the 21-yard line. Tucker didn’t threaten again.
Valdosta managed just 80 of offense in the second half, as it was content to run the ball and burn the clock, but finished with a 310-262 advantage in total yards.
Belton finished 16-for-24 passing for 162 yards and was the Wildcats’ leading rusher with 53 yards on nine carries. Tevin Gray added 50 yards on 10 carries, and quarterback Hunter Holt, who played most of the second half, had 41 yards on nine carries. Ingram led Valdosta’s receivers with six catches for 82 yards.
Broadwater had just 35 yards rushing in the first half but finished with 109 yards on 15 carries. Quarterback Xavier Shephard was 9-for-19 passing for 105 yards, and Josh Vann had four receptions for 156 yards. Tucker’s leading rusher on the season, Taurean Taylor (1,315 yards), missed the game with an ankle injury suffered in the semifinals.
Valdosta’s 17-0 halftime lead could have been bigger. After Belton’s two touchdown passes, the Wildcats got inside the Tucker 35 on their next two possessions but failed to take advantage. An interception by Tyler Oglesby at the 1-yard line stopped one drive, and the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs on their next possession when a wide-open Wesley Veal was unable to corral a halfback pass by Gray on a fourth-and-4 play from the 31.
Valdosta didn’t have to punt in the first half, and Tucker got into Wildcats territory just once, turning the ball over on downs at the 31.
Tucker – 0-0-7-0 – 7
Valdosta - 14-3-0-0 – 17
V – Damarrias Morrow 35 pass from Josh Belton (Davis Baldwin kick)
V – JR Ingram 17 pass from Belton (Baldwin kick)
V – Baldwin 44 field goal
T – Chris Broadwater 8 run (Adam Lippy kick)