Southland loses 24-20 heartbreaker to Valwood’s come-from-behind surge

Published 10:11 am Tuesday, October 11, 2016


AMERICUS – On the crisp, windy night of Oct. 7 in Americus, local football fans gathered at Harvey Simpson Stadium to watch as the Southland Raiders took on Georgia Independent School Association Region opponents, the Valwood Valiants.
The game got off to an exciting start for the home fans, as the Raiders pulled ahead early and Parker Weldon blocked a last-second field goal attempt and ran the ball back 80 yards for a touchdown to cap off the first half and leave the home team up 13-3 at the break. Much to the chagrin of the local crowd, however, the Raiders found themselves unable to stave off a late surge by the Valiants and suffered a 24-20 defeat in the contest.
With the loss, the Raiders drop to 4-5 overall on the 2016 season and 0-3 in region competition. Valwood jumps to 4-2 with the win and remains undefeated in Region 3-AAA after two contests.
The match-up got off to a slow beginning, with the Raiders receiving the first kickoff and embarking on an eight-play drive that was halted by a stubborn Valwood defense near midfield.
The teams traded possession three more times in the initial quarter, and the Raiders returned the favor by stubbornly halting Valwood’s final drive of the frame. As the clock ticked down, the Valiants drove into their hosts’ red zone, looking to break the touchdown-scoring seal early.
The Raiders had different ideas, however, as the team utilized a hard joint sack by Stephen Taggart and Morgan Youngdale to push the ball back to the 20-yard line. The Valiants made a last-second pass into the end zone that was deftly broken up by Southland’s Brody Shattles to end the quarter.
Another tackle by Youngdale held the Valiants at the Southland 20 when play resumed, forcing the visitors to attempt a 37-yard field goal. The kick was good, putting the Valwood squad up 3-0 early in the second stanza.
Seven minutes later, the Raiders made their mark on the scoreboard with an eight-play drive, highlighted by a 50-yard rush by running back, Townsend Ray. Two more runs by Ray and a five-yarder up the gut by Clay Owens left the Raiders staring down fourth and two at their opponents’ 15. A flag in the Raiders’ favor then moved the sticks and gave Stephen Turton the chance to crash through the middle to the Valwood five. Ray carried another two yards on the next play before Owens broke into the end zone with 7:45 left to play in the half.
Raider place kicker, Zane Hines’, PAT attempt was blocked, holding the Raiders to a 6-3 advantage.
Valwood held onto the ball for the remainder of the first half, inching forward on an 11-play drive, slowed by a series of hard stops by Logan Morris, Taggart, Shattles, Ray, and Youngdale.
With their progress stalled at Southland’s 20-yard line and six seconds left on the clock, the Valiants attempted to even the score with another long field goal.
As Valwood place kicker, John Miller, booted the kick, Southland defender, Parker Weldon, took a mighty leap and got a hand on the ball. The ball tumbled to the ground in the chaos and Weldon scooped it up and took off on an 80-yard jaunt to the roar of the home crowd, adding another six-pointer to the Raiders’ pad. Hines’ kick was on point this time around, leaving the Raiders with a cozy 10-point (13-3) lead as the teams retired to the locker room for intermission.
The Valiants wasted no time making up for lost ground after returning from the break and pressed their way deep into Southland’s red zone one and a half minutes into the action despite the tackling efforts of Marty McCummins, Josh McKie, and Hunter McCain. From the Raiders’ one yard-line, Valwood back, Tai Hatcher, pushed his way through Southland’s defensive shield for a touchdown. Miller nailed the PAT to narrow the Raiders’ pad to 13-10 with 10:30 left in the third frame.
The Raiders pushed their way to midfield on their return drive with quarterback, Alex Roach, completing one pass to Shattles in between rushes from Owens, Weldon, and Ray. Nine plays into the drive, however, Valwood’s Hank Evans pulled down a long pass intended for Saige Batten to fire up the visitors. The Raiders held their foes to three and out due to the tackling efforts of Stephen Taggart, Chandler Studdard, and Logan Morris, and regained possession on downs after giving up only four yards.
Turton and Owens made hard runs to push the ball 10 yards before disaster struck for the Raiders once more when a forced fumble was recovered by a Valwood defender. Valwood scored on their return, with Hatcher weaving his way through a sea of black and gold for a 35-yard touchdown run, leaving the visitors up 17-13, where the score would stay until the end of the quarter.
Southland scored again four and a half minutes into the final frame on a nine-play drive propelled by hard runs from Turton, Weldon, and Owens (who broke at least six tackles on two consecutive plays), coupled with a reception by Shattles, that covered 89 yards. From Valwood’s four, Weldon was able to take a handoff and break for the end zone, untouched to put the Raiders back into the lead. Hines nailed the PAT, leaving the Raiders up 20-13 with 7:40 left in the game.
The Valiants answered with a 15-play return drive that spanned 68 yards and overcame a brutal sack by Taggart. Valwood’s Christian Dawson carried the brunt of the weight on the drive, consistently rushing for small, but steady yardage. With 1:33 left before the buzzer, Hatcher scored on a two-yard rush. Miller then hit his fourth successful kick of the game to bring the score to 24-20, where it stayed until the game’s conclusion.
The Raiders will return to action on Oct. 14, traveling to Thomasville to take on region rivals, the Brookwood Warriors for the 2016 season closer.