Devils go for history at Valdosta

Jeffery Butler (23), an unknown Tift County player and Daniel Whitehead (right) strip Jahlen Rutherford of Warner Robins of the football last Friday.

TIFTON — Tift County will look to get back to its winning ways on the football field tonight as they challenge the Valdosta Wildcats in a road contest. Kickoff will be at 8 p.m. against the winningest team in United States history.

A victory at Bazemore-Hyder would put the Blue Devils in elite company. Tift County (0-1) would have its third straight win in the series, something only seven schools have done against Valdosta, whose history stretches back to 1913.

Tift is currently not on that list. Head coach Ashley Anders said he has pointed out this opportunity to them, that this senior class could be the first to win three in a row and could also be the first to go undefeated against the Wildcats during their varsity careers. It is quite a goal for the locals, but actually achieving it will be an uphill battle.

Defense was a struggle for Valdosta a year ago. Three teams scored 50 or more points against them. Maynard Jackson hit them for 27 in 2018. The score turned around considerably last week.

Valdosta won its first game of the season by a 55-7 score over Maynard Jackson. Special teams problems plagued the Jaguars, according to Anders. In short, Valdosta blocked three punts and recorded two safeties. He expects them to apply plenty of pressure on sophomore Azaria Smith, who averaged 45.9 yards over seven punts last week, two of which sailed 58 yards.

Anders said Valdosta’s speed as is as good as he’s seen among high school teams in recent years.

“They’re not huge, but even their d-line can fly,” he said. None of the listed weights for the Wildcats top 290 pounds. Their biggest defensive player is 275 pounds.

On the offensive side of the ball, Tift’s defense will have their own problems containing quarterback Tate Rodemaker. Son of head coach Alan Rodemaker, Tate is already committed to play collegiately at South Florida.

Rodemaker was extremely accurate against the Devils in 2018 — 21-of-26 passing — but what felled him and the Wildcats was defensive pressure. Tift sacked him 12 times. “He’s got a cannon,” said Anders of Rodemaker’s arm. Anders added Valdosta has “three unbelievable wideouts” as targets. One of them, Jaheim Bell, caught a touchdown pass and returned the second half kickoff for a 95-yard score.

As usual, Valdosta will also have a solid rushing game. Most of their depth, said Anders, is at running back.

Tift County will attempt to rebound from a tough matchup against Warner Robins.

“I thought our backs ran pretty good” he said. “[Warner Robins] is as good a front as we’ll see.”

The team had some struggles in moving the ball to start the contest. Joe Almond was a beat off in some of his passes to receivers, but soon had a rhythm, completing to Walter Jackson, Qa Clines, Chrishon Stephens, Jeremiah McKennon and Smith.

Tift was more successful running. Jackson, starting his first game at the position, carried the ball 21 times for 113 yards. Almond ran for the team’s lone touchdown, which was set up by Jackson runs.

“As the game went on, we started blocking better,” said Anders.

Tift will move from Valdosta back home next week to take on Worth County. The Rams (0-1) will be at Dooly County tonight.

Earlier this week, Tift County named its players of the week. For the varsity squad, Ben Brock, Boone Utley, J.D. Bengston and Smith earned awards. Junior varsity winners were Jalen Edmondson and Jonathon Sumner.

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