VALDOSTA - The Valdosta Wildcats broke open what had been a close halftime score and defeated the Tift County Blue Devils Friday, 37-0.
A stout Devils defense held Valdosta to 10 first half points. A spate of bad luck in the third quarter led to short fields and quarterback Tate Rodemaker responded with an all-out air assault.
Rodemaker threw for four touchdowns in the period to three different receivers and the Wildcats had a lead too much for Tift to overcome.
Tift County started quickly, Walter Jackson running for two first downs on the opening drive. The Blue Devils looked poised for more when quarterback Joe Almond ripped a long run into Valdosta territory. The ran came back, however, on a penalty.
On the next snap, the 'Cats had their first takeaway, an interception by Zakye Mathis.
Valdosta had a golden opportunity, Mathis having run the ball back to Tift's 13. They stalled there. Rodemaker hit a pass for five yards, but two runs were stuffed. Delroy Mattis opened scoring with a 25-yard field goal at 7:17.
Following this quick score, the teams went into a stalemate. Wendell McClain broke up a potential first down pass. Keyshawn Jones dropped Rodemaker for a sack early in the second quarter. On Valdosta's next possession, J.D. Bengston also got to Rodemaker. In between the sacks, McClain ended a deep drive with an interception.
The Wildcats missed a field goal late in the quarter, then caught a break. Javonte Sherman was stripped of the ball on a punt return, but it popped right back into his arms and he ran to Tift's 26.
Stymied all of the first half, Rodemaker came to life, hitting Jaheim Bell with a pass in the end zone with 57 seconds left before intermission. Mattis made the kick. Valdosta had a 10-point lead at the break.
Rodemaker's late spark meant trouble in the third quarter. Buoyed by Tift's bad luck, he got short fields to work with. He made the most of these chances.
The first strike of the third quarter went for 40 yards to Sherman. Valdosta's defense, impenetrable all night, forced quick changes of possession. Sherman caught a 19-yard touchdown at 10:09.
Reggie Bell got a Valdosta interception. Rodemaker increased the lead further with an eight-yard pass to Willie Trapp. Finally, he threw a 34-yard scoring strike to Tarrell Roberts.
Tift kept the pressure on Rodemaker throughtout this spell. Willie Brown prevented a long completion with a pass break-up. Tyre West, Jalon Miller, Bengston and Jones flushed him from the pocket several times. Jones had a final sack in the fourth period.
The Blue Devils had a final drive in the fourth quarter with Chrishon Stephens picked up their final first down. Almond, Weston Clamp and Jacob Beach all had opportunities at quarterback.
The shutout was Tift's first since 2012, which the Devils suffered against Camden County. They'll get another opportunity for victory Friday, when they host Worth County.