High School Sports

Valdosta defense ends the season for Houston County, Fromm

Jake Fromm's high school career came to an end Friday, and expected emotions followed

It was hard for the Houston County quarterback to leave Freedom Field for the final time as a Bear.
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It was hard for the Houston County quarterback to leave Freedom Field for the final time as a Bear.

The scenarios for the dream game-winning drive were there for Jake Fromm and Houston County.

But Valdosta’s defense took care of business with a physical second half while the Wildcats’ offense got going.

And the nightmare began when a fourth-down pass to Jaeven West came up a yard short of a first down with 1:59 left in the game, forcing Fromm and the nearly two dozen seniors to watch the end of their career commence with a 28-24 loss to GHSA Region 1-6A champion Valdosta.

With it came an end to one of the most prolific high school careers in state history.

Fromm was 430 yards from tying Deshaun Watson for the state’s all-time mark in passing yards entering the game, but the Bears didn’t throw as much as usual for two reasons: They were having success with the running game, and Fromm wasn’t his normal self, thanks to a shoulder injury (Grade 2 separation) suffered last week in the win over Northside.

He finished 18-of-28 for 174 yards, giving him 12,821 for his career, not far behind Watson’s 13,077. Fromm’s 116 touchdown passes are also second, behind Watson’s 159.

The Bears led 21-7 at halftime and watched Valdosta miss its second field goal of the game early in the third quarter. Houston County converted an interception into a Jon David Ferraris field goal with 4:51 left in the third quarter for a 24-7 lead.

But the Wildcats scored on their next possession and added the two-point conversion. They forced a punt and pulled within two points on a 41-yard pass play with 10:40 left in the game.

The Bears were stuffed, and another short punt gave Valdosta good field position, which it converted into the lead touchdown with 5:14 to go.

Houston County punted from its 8 but got the ball back when the Wildcats muffed it. Valdosta’s defense bowed up and stopped West on a fourth-down swing pass less than a yard from a first down.

Six who mattered

Fromm: The senior had perhaps his most physical game, suffering seven negative plays — mostly on sacks — on the ground. He finished with 36 yards on the ground, Valdosta’s defense almost erasing the 45-yard run he had in the early moments of the game.

West: The diminutive junior had another strong game with seven catches for 63 yards and 13 rushes for 47 yards, giving the Valdosta defense something to worry about. He scored two touchdowns.

Trey Jones, DJ Journey and Mack McCullough: The trio led a balanced Houston County defense that held the Wildcats in check in the first half, held on two drives that led to missed field goals (in both halves) and forced a fumble right after a Houston County turnover.

Hunter Holt: The Valdosta quarterback took over after two series in the second half and engineered the Wildcats comeback with his feet and arm with 62 rushing yards and 107 passing yards in the second half.

Turning point

The Bears led 24-15 when they started a possession with 1:01 left in the third quarter on their 30. They got a first down but then had an incomplete pass and two 1-yard gains, the second by Fromm after a superb escape of a sack. Valdosta took over with good field position, on its 45, and scored in four plays, getting a 41-yard touchdown pass from Holt to Wesley Veal, the score sealed by a superb downfield block. The PAT made it a two-point game, with all the momentum on Valdosta’s side. The Wildcats gave up a first down on the Bears’ next play, then got a sack for a 7-yard loss, dropped an interception and stuffed a pass play for a 4-yard loss. They had the lead a little more than three minutes later.

Worth mentioning

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Fromm lingered on the field for a long time after the game, taking assorted consolations from people and then sharing sob-filled hugs with teammates. Eventually, off to the side stood Holt, about 5 inches shorter and 60 points lighter, waiting to meet Fromm. They shook hands and chatted for a minute.

Strong second half: Valdosta held Houston County to four first downs in the second half, after the Bears had 10 in the first.

Gambling men: Houston County fourth-down gambles paid off twice as the Bears converted a fourth-and-11 with a 22-yard pass play from Fromm to Eli Watson and then a fourth-and-15 with a 21-yard pass to Amari Colbert.

They said it

Houston County head coach Von Lassiter on Valdosta’s defense: “They’re the defense we thought they were. They’re so multiple anyway. We weren’t getting a feel for where they were. ... They really got after us up front.”

Fromm on Valdosta’s defensive changes in the second half: “If a guy started in one place, he didn’t end up in the same place. They did a really good job of disguising coverages and bringing blitzes. We just had a hard time picking it up.”

Valdosta head coach Alan Rodemaker on the first-half defense: “I thought Houston did a really good job in the first half picking us apart. We wanted to be able to blitz them, but some of the stuff they do by motioning that back (West) out caused us some problems. ... We had too many one-on-one matchups. They were better than us on a couple plays.”

Rodemaker on Fromm taking advantage of those kinds of things: “Jake’s gonna find him. It’s like he’s playing a video game.”

Fromm on the thought that Valdosta might hold back, having already clinched the region title: “When they were down 21-7, they definitely just could have laid down. They came out fighting, they came out swinging. They played really good football.”

Rodemaker on second-half defensive adjustments: “A couple times in the first half, we got pressure with four (down linemen). More than a couple. So it gave me a little confidence. At halftime, I said, ‘We’re gonna play with our four down, and we’re gonna play coverage and we’re gonna make them suckers beat us.’

Lassiter on waiting for that breakthrough drive late in the game: “I thought we’d go down the field and be able to score and win the game. Just didn’t get it done. They took away everything we wanted to do.

Rodemaker on his first and last meeting with Fromm: “I don’t ever remember going against a passer like that in my 20 years of coaching.”

Fromm on hoping for a final chance at a game-winning drive and then counting down to the end: “There was plenty of time left. ... It didn’t really hit me until the clock struck zero.”

Lassiter on the end of the Fromm era: “I don’t want to think about it, I don’t. It’s the reality. Life goes on, things happen. He’s one I’ll never forget, one I’ll never forget.”

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