The Valdosta Daily Times
NEWBERRY, S.C. —
NEWBERRY, S.C. – David Dean believes the biggest improvement a football team makes is between games one and two.
The Valdosta State Blazers proved their coach right on Saturday at Newberry.
The Blazers ran roughshod over Newberry in their first road game of the season, crushing the Wolves 45-17 at Setzler Field.
After a week of hearing Newberry trash talk on Facebook, the Blazers were the ones who backed it up on the field. They lit up Kamaal McIllwain on the opening kickoff which led to a scrum and offsetting personal fouls.
The tone was set.
It was clear the Blazers were going to take it to the Wolves physically from the start, and they did. David Arnold shook off several tackles and raced 75 yards deep into Wolves territory early in the first quarter. Quarterback Brett Whitmire scored on the next play on a bootleg to make it 7-0.
VSU ended up rushing for 239 yards and two touchdowns against a Newberry team that held Livingstone to minus-39 yards rushing last week.
“Our guys played with a lot of emotion which was good to see,” Blazers head coach David Dean said. “I think they wanted to go out and prove we do have a good football team. We wanted to make a statement and I think we did. We wanted to make a statement not only to ourselves, but a lot of the people that maybe question are these guys really pretty good.”
In his first career start, Whitmire completed 16-of-29 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns. He also had the rushing touchdown. Dean said after the game Whitmire will be the starter for the rest of the season and he deserves it.
“It felt good,” Whitmire said. “The first series I was pretty nervous. I’m a freshman and it was my first collegiate start. But after that first series I wasn’t nervous at all.”
Whitmire’s biggest mistake came in the third with the Blazers leading 24-10. He tried to throw a pass out of bounds but didn’t throw it far enough and All-American safety Ron Parker intercepted the pass with his toes on the line.
Newberry scored on the ensuing drive to cut it to 24-17.
The tide turned in favor of the Blazers on their next drive. They regained a two-touchdown lead early in the fourth after a crushing personal foul penalty by McIllwain. Newberry stopped VSU on third down deep in VSU territory, but McIllwain slammed Jordan McNair to the ground 20 yards away from the play for a penalty that gave VSU new life.
Whitmire completed a 26-yard screen pass to Arnold and capped off the drive when he connected with Jackson Dean for the second time in the back of the end zone for a touchdown to make it 34-17. McIllwain was called for a late hit after the play.
With Newberry deflated, the Blazers ground attack took over. The Blazers defense forced a three-and-out and VSU capitalized when it ran six times for 72 yards and a touchdown on its next drive. David Bailey ran for a 22-yard touchdown to make it 38-17.
“We felt like we were going to have to run the ball to win the game,” Dean said.
While VSU’s offense was moving the ball in the second half, the defense wasn’t allowing the Wolves offense to do anything. Both of Newberry’s touchdowns came after Whitmire turned it over in VSU territory.
The Blazers intercepted Newberry quarterback Bryan Ehrlic five times. Harrison Dreiling intercepted two passes and Joel Cain, Stevie Harden and Chris Pope had the others.
Harden also forced a fumble the Blazers recovered to make it a total of six Newberry turnovers.
“I can’t remember the last time we had six turnovers in a ballgame,” Dean said. “I was proud of our defense. They played very well. If not for a couple of turnovers allowing them a short field I think our defense pretty much shut them out.”
Linebacker Larry Dean tied his career high with 17 tackles.
VSU totaled 490 yards of offense. Arnold carried the ball 10 times for 94 yards and Gerald Ford caught five passes for 105 yards. He had a beautiful one-handed touchdown catch that put VSU up 14-10 in the second quarter.
The Blazers are now 2-0 and will host Delta State (1-1) next Saturday at 1 p.m. After making a statement against Newberry, the Blazers will try to make another one by snapping a four-game losing streak to the Statesmen.