Raiders to open playoffs at Valdosta

By Doug Gorman

For the past two seasons, the Riverdale Raiders have journeyed to Valdosta High School for a playoff clash with arguably the most famous high school football team in the country.

The Raiders will follow that script again Friday night when they travel to the South Georgia town for a date with the Wildcats.

It's the third time Valdosta has played Riverdale in the playoffs.

Riverdale lost 16-6 in 2001 and then fell 7-0 to the Wildcats in 2002.

The city of Valdosta has earned the name "Winnersville" thanks to its football team which has posted an all-time record of 808 wins, 168 losses and 39 ties.

Along the way the squad has been voted the national high school champion six times and won 23 state title, including its last one in 1998.

"They have a great history, but we are used to playing them by now," said Riverdale head coach Rodney Hackney.

Just making it back to the play

offs is exciting for Hackney's squad.

A year ago, the Raiders forfeited all but one of their games after they turned themselves in for using an ineligble player after the playoffs.

They were also hit hard by graduation and forced to reload.

Youth prevailed for the Raiders as the squad clinched the No. 4 seed coming out of Region 4-AAAAA after posting a 6-4 record.

"We are playing a lot of young guys, but they have played hard all season and that's all you can ask for."

Riverdale could have watched its playoff hopes evaporate midway through the season win it lost to McIntosh 6-0.

It was arguably the worst performance of the season by the Raiders, but they showed their resiliency a week later by beating Carver Columbus in overtime to clinch a the final playoff spot.

They even held Region 2-AAAAA champion Lovejoy to 26 points one of the Wildcats' lost scoring totals this season.

"We won the games we were supposed to win, and lost the once we supposed to lose," said Hackney. "We played hard all season."

Riverdale runs its offense out of the Winged-T, and they can expect Valdosta to do something similar, as the Wildcats will come out at times in the Flexbone. Valdosta also runs the ball out of the I-formation.

The Wildcats aren't just a running team. They can also throw the football.

First-year Valdosta head coach Rick Darlington, who took over this year and guided the Wildcats to a 7-3 record.

It was a tough start for the Wildcats new coach. After a 1-3 start, Valdosta has won six in a row.