Valdosta is almost synonymous with high school football in Georgia. The Wildcats’ prolific history includes 910 wins, 42 region and conference titles and 24 state championships, including last year’s, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association website.
Those are the numbers that follow Valdosta from stadium to stadium, but Glynn Academy head coach Rocky Hidalgo isn’t concerned about history. The Red Terrors have plenty of their own, including incredible playoff success the last three years under Hidalgo that includes two trips to the quarterfinals sandwiched between an appearance in a state title game.
“We have a name too,” Hidalgo said. “That ancient history stuff is what it is and they’ve got a great football program, but the past three years we’ve played as much playoff football as anybody. I think people around the state recognize we have a good football program.”
The two teams meet today in a Class 6A first-round playoff game at 7:30 p.m. at Glynn County Stadium.
Valdosta is the No. 4 seed out of the highly competitive Region 1-6A, which includes three teams ranked in the top 10. The Wildcats are not one of them.
It’s been a down year for Valdosta as they enter the playoffs with a 4-6 record. The Wildcats started the season off with a blowout loss to Class 7A rival Lowndes and after shutting out Woodland-Stockbridge, lost games to Wayne County, Tift County and Colquitt County to start the season 1-4. A 44-14 win against Thomas County Central before region play broke the streak.
In region, the Wildcats lost to Northside-Warner Robins and Coffee, but beat Houston County and handed Lee County, the third-ranked team in Class 6A, its only loss of the season.
Glynn, 6-3, earned the No. 1 seed out of Region 2-6A with some help on the last weekend of the season. Effingham County’s win over Richmond Hill avoided a three-way tie atop the region between Glynn, Brunswick High and Richmond Hill. Glynn’s win last week against Bradwell gave the Terrors a 3-1 mark in region play along with Brunswick and since the Terrors beat the Pirates, they got the No. 1 seed.
And as tough as Region 1 is, Region 2 is no slouch. The Terrors enter the postseason ranked ninth in the state, two spots below seventh-ranked Brunswick.
Being the No. 1 seed guarantees at least two home playoff games, but first the Terrors have to beat Valdosta. The Wildcats have averaged 19.6 points per game on offense while giving up 23 points per game on defense.
Glynn enters the postseason averaging 27.2 points per game on offense. That number jumps to 37.2 points per game in the Terrors’ victories this year. A strong running game behind running backs Caine Crews, Nolan Grant, Tyler Grant, Hunter Hall and quarterback Randon Jernigan have been the ignition for Glynn’s offense this season.
Defensively, the Terrors have held opponents to a shade under 20 points per game. Glynn was especially good the last four games of the season, not giving up more than 14 points in a game.
Hidalgo said eliminating costly mistakes like turnovers, an important factor in any game that gets magnified in the playoffs, will decide who advances to the second round.
“Mistakes are everything,” Hidalgo said. “Mismatches don’t beat you, mistakes do. The team that has the most mistakes is going home.”
That message has gotten through to his senior quarterback.
“We’ve got to make sure we take care of the ball,” Jernigan said. “End every drive in a kick — either after a touchdown, a field goal or a punt.”
Hidalgo also stressed the importance of his team staying patient and not getting frustrated if they run into trouble.
“We can’t panic. They’re going to tackle us and get us sometimes,” Hidalgo said. “This is going to be a game where it’s OK to punt. As long as we understand that, we’re going to be fine.”