The Wildcats (0-1, 0-1 Region 5-AAAAA) had their best opportunities to hit paydirt very early in the game before settling for a pair of field goals. After that, they never would get inside the Spartans’ 20-yard line rest of the evening.
Still, second-year Cat coach Mike Falleur thought his team took some steps forward, especially a young defense that had several sophomores starting for the first time under the bright lights.
“I’m proud of the way our kids played. We have so many guys that were out there for the first time. But we’ve just got to keep going. I mean, we’re injured, we’ve got three running backs that are playing defense. That’s not an excuse. I’m proud of the way our kids played,” Falleur said. “We played hard and we’re going to get better.”
South Paulding (1-1, 1-1) broke open a 7-6 halftime advantage by scoring on its first two possessions of the second half, using a 26-yard touchdown run by senior fullback Josh Anderson and a 28-yard touchdown strike from senior quarterback Luke Norman to senior wideout Wylan Stone with 43 seconds left in the third to go up 21-6 after a third consecutive successful PAT by sophomore place-kicker Brittany Havenner.
VR had its biggest offensive play of the game — a 50-yard strike from junior quarterback Kevin Martin to senior wideout Dante Smith — on the next possession, but Smith fumbled at the South Paulding 30-yard line, quickly swinging the momentum back to the Spartans with 27 seconds left in the third.
From there, neither team did much in the final 12 minutes, as the Spartans lost a pair of fumbles, but the Wildcats were unable to capitalize in either instance.
Falleur said it would have been interesting to see if his ball club could have pulled within one possession after the long pass play, but he also pointed out that it didn’t take advantage of the pair of lost Spartan fumbles, either.
“That hurt. But, you know, that’s football. You’ve got to come back and make the next play. We didn’t do it. Hopefully, we will the next time,” Falleur said.
South Paulding junior halfback Jae Bowen proved to be the workhorse on Friday for the visitors, doing a little bit of everything out of the backfield. Bowen rushed for 112 yards on 18 carries, while hauling in three passes for 36 yards and throwing an 18-yard touchdown pass for South Paulding’s only score of the first half.
VR senior Jermaine Hutchinson led the Cats offensively, rushing for 40 yards on 10 carries. Martin completed 5-of-13 pass attempts for 99 yards.
The Wildcats used a pair of Manuel Rivera first-quarter field goals of 31 and 41 yards to get out to an early 6-0 lead before the Spartans scored on the 18-yard touchdown strike from Bowen to wideout Tyler Rogers with 9:53 left in the second quarter.
The Cats had solid field position twice early in the opening quarter, stuffing the Spartans on fourth-and-inches from their own 29-yard line and then forcing a three-and-out on the next possession and getting the ball at the VR 48.
The Cats couldn’t get in the end zone on either occasion, though, settling for the Rivera field goals.
And while there is still plenty of work to do, Falleur said his young ball club is making strides and will continue to get better heading into next week’s road trip to Hiram.
“They got better [Friday]. They grew up a little bit. They’ve been growing up every week. And it’s the same thing on offense,” Falleur said.