It's been some time since the Valdosta Wildcats found themselves here.
The winningest program in high school football history hasn't played in a state semifinal game since 2003. That all changes Friday night when the Wildcats play Dalton.
Head coach Alan Rodemaker has preached to his team all week they can't win a championship this Friday, so that doesn't need to be in their minds. Instead, he wants them completely focused on an undefeated Dalton team deserving of their full, undivided attention.
Just because he doesn't want too much state title talk around the team, he does want them aware of their goal. This week, that's getting to the Georgia Dome.
"It's been a goal every week. Win the region. Finish region undefeated. Win the first playoff game. Let's practice on Thanksgiving. Let's play 14 games," Rodemaker says. "This week, it's let's get a trip to the Dome."
The Wildcats lost the coin flip, so they will be on the road for Friday's state semifinal against undefeated Dalton. The Catamounts have been impressive this season, but the Wildcats are #1 for a reason.
Valdosta has gone through a murderer's row of a schedule this season. If anything can prepare you to face an unbeaten team on the road, the slate Valdosta conquered in 2016 certainly can't hurt.
"Everybody we played but Houston County was a playoff team. We played six teams that reached the state quarterfinals," he says. "Dalton's a lot like a region opponent for us to be honest."
That will be a 7:30 game Friday night in Carpet Country. The winner advances to the state title game next week at the Georgia Dome.
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