GEICO State Champions Bowl Series preview: Valdosta (Ga.) vs. Chandler (Ariz.)

Chandler High sophomore LB Zach Bowers (44), senior OLB/LS Sam Pepper (9) and senior OLB Michael Kelly (30) chase down a loose ball in a game this season (Photo: Ben Moffat/azcentral sports)

Chandler High sophomore LB Zach Bowers (44), senior OLB/LS Sam Pepper (9) and senior OLB Michael Kelly (30) chase down a loose ball in a game this season (Photo: Ben Moffat/azcentral sports)

Who: Valdosta (Ga.) vs. Chandler (Ariz.)

When: Friday, 6 p.m. ET

Where: Ford Center at the Star, Frisco, Texas.


Resumes: Valdosta is the Georgia AAAAAA champion after beating Tucker 17-7 in the state final. The Wildcats are 14-1 and have won nine in a row since a 45-24 loss to Colquitt County (Moultrie) on Sept. 23.

Chandler is the Arizona Interscholastic Association 6A Conference champion. The Wolves are 12-2 and have won 10 in a row after a 2-2 start, outscoring opponents by a total of 544-173 in the 10 games. Their last loss was a 52-7 blowout to Mountain Pointe that Chandler avenged in the state title game 36-17.

About Valdosta: The Wildcats opened the season by becoming the first high school program – and just the second at any level – to earn 900 victories by topping their biggest rival, Lowndes, in the Winnersville Classic by a final of 38-13. (Michigan is the only other football program to win 900 games.) The season ended with the 24th state championship in school history, and first since 1998, the longest drought in school history.

Alan Rodemaker is in his first year as head coach at Valdosta after two seasons at Peach County and brought the program back to past glory. Josh Belton and Hunter Holt split time at quarterback, with Belton throwing for more than 1,300 yards and 15 TDs and Holt passing for nearly 1,100 yards and 12 TDs. They are two of six players who have thrown touchdown passes this season. Holt and Belton also are the team’s leading rushers. JR Ingram is the leading receiver with 16 touchdowns. The defense is anchored by James Bushware and Zakoby McClain. Devonnsha Maxwell and Tyler Blue can pressure the passer.

About Chandler: The Wolves were No. 23 in the Super 25 preseason but lost a shootout in the second game of the season to Centennial (Corona, Calif.) and lost to Mountain Pointe in the fourth game. Coach Shaun Aguano said before the season that Chandler had the toughest schedule of any team in Arizona.

Needing to replace quarterback Mason Moran, Chandler tabbed Jacob Conover, who got better as the season went on. He had 3,444 yards passing and 29 touchdowns, completing an amazing 71 percent of his passes. Oregon State commit T.J. Green ran for more than 2,000 yards and 33 touchdowns (he also caught four TD passes). Oregon commit Johnny Johnson III had 74 catches for 1,204 yards and eight TDs.

What to expect: Chandler puts up points – it has scored at least 44 points in nine of its last 10 and at least 50 in seven of 10. Valdosta can score too, but it has only allowed at least 24 points three times and has held 11 opponents to fewer than two touchdowns.

Something else to watch: The rust factor. Chandler has not played since Nov. 26. The team took a week-and-a-half off before resuming practice for the Bowl Series. Valdosta last played on Dec. 7.

“This is great experience and exposure for our kids,” Aguano said. “The national exposure for Arizona football and Chandler and all that is great. I weighed it back and forth. This gives them another chance to be seen by college coaches.”

Contributing: AZCentral 

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