11-23 JMA-Valwood football preview.JPG

Junior defensive back Jalan Butts (13) wins the battle for the football to stave off Heritage’s hopeful scoring drive late in last week’s playoff contest. 

Most of the time when the John Milledge and Valwood School football teams meet, there’s a lot on the line. 

That will be the case again when the top-ranked Trojans (11-0) host the No. 4 Valiants (7-4) in a Georgia Independent Athletic Association (GIAA) Class AAA semifinal Friday night. The winner will move on to play for the state title. John Milledge is trying to get back to the finals for a fifth-consecutive year while the Valiants are vying for their first trip there since 2019. 

The two programs separated by about 180 miles have met on the gridiron eight times, all since 2011. This week’s contest will be the sixth playoff meeting and the fourth semifinal or championship contest between them. JMA holds the 5-3 advantage all-time having won the last three matchups 56-0, 56-0, and 62-19 in the 2019 state championship drubbing.  

Known in past years for often going to the air offensively, this year’s Valwood squad is approaching drives differently. 

“They’ve kind of changed their identity offensively compared to what you’re used to seeing from those Valwood teams of the past,” John Milledge head coach J.T. Wall said. “They’ve kind of transformed into a physical football team that’s relying on its big offensive line to try and pound people.”

The Valiants have good reason to want to run the football with sophomore running back Triston White. The 6-foot, 195-pounder has, according to MaxPreps, over 1,300 yards this season at 8 yards per carry. White is also far and away the team’s leader in touchdowns with 15. 

Defensively Valwood has shown to be a bit of a mixed bag. Head coach Justin Henderson’s team has surrendered just one touchdown in a couple of games, but has also allowed two opponents to get up over 40 and 50. On average, the Valiants surrender 23.6 points per night. 

Wall’s undefeated Trojans, meanwhile toting the longest football winning streak in state history at 48, have outscored their 2022 opponents 513-95 for an average margin of victory of 38 points per game. All of that production, and the 12th-year head coach still sees room for improvement. 

“We’re trying to clean up some things,” Wall said. “I don’t know if the off week played a part in it or not, but we felt like last week we got a little sloppy on the defensive side of the football and we were shooting ourselves in the foot offensively with penalties. We just didn’t play as clean as we would like to.”

Common opponents point to another Trojan romp this week barring a horrific performance by JMA or an all-world night by Valwood. The two semifinalists both played Frederica and Brookwood this season. Valwood defeated Frederica 32-21 way back on Sept. 2 and took a 19-18 loss to Brookwood in the regular season finale. John Milledge blew past Frederica 63-13 in mid-September and defeated Brookwood 56-19 the following week after a slow start by the Trojans. 

On the line Friday night will be a trip to Mercer University’s Five Star Stadium to play for the AAA state championship Thursday, Dec. 1. The added 4A classification made it where the GIAA could not play four games in the same day, so the championships have been split two-and-two between Thursday and Friday. Playing on the other side of the AAA bracket are Valwood’s region foes in second-ranked Brookwood and No. 3 Deerfield-Windsor. Brookwood won the regular season meeting against Deerfield 39-29 at home Oct. 7. 

The John Milledge-Valwood winner will see one of those two teams, but must first get through this week. Kickoff between the Trojans and Valiants is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at JMA.

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