The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valdosta State Blazers celebrated Senior Day against West Georgia on Saturday, and one Blazer senior made the most of his final regular season game at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.
Stevie Harden played on both sides of the ball against the Wolves, and found the end zone on both offense and defense. Harden caught a pass, scored a rushing touchdown and returned an interception for a touchdown, and helped lead the Blazers to a 31-13 win over their in-state rivals to retain the Peach Basket.
For his efforts, Harden is The Valdosta Daily Times’ Player of the Week. He is the first repeat winner of the VDT Player of the Week award this year. He won it along with Larry Dean the week the Blazers defeated Southern Arkansas 27-0.
With wide receiver Gerald Ford missing the game with a knee injury, the Blazers were thin at wide receiver. Enter Harden. The senior from Lowndes High School was asked by the coaches to play some receiver on Monday.
“He’s a playmaker for us,” Blazers head coach David Dean said. “We’re young at wide receiver. We’re hurt at wide receiver, especially with Gerald Ford still out. So we had to find a guy who could come in and be a playmaker for us. We thought Stevie Harden was that type of guy. When he gets the ball in his hands, he’s hard to tackle.”
On Harden’s first play on offense, he was targeted by Brett Whitmire, and caught a 9-yard slant pass.
Later in the second quarter, on fourth down, Whitmire went deep for Harden in the end zone, but the pass went through Harden’s hands as he was falling down. Had he caught the ball, it would have been a spectacular play.
“We felt like we had an opportunity to get by a lot of guys and go deep,” Dean said. “He almost made a great adjustment on the pass in the end zone, and I think if he had played more wide receiver throughout his time here, he probably would have been able to adjust and make that catch. He gave us an opportunity to make a big play there, although he didn’t come down with it.”
In the third quarter, Harden increased VSU’s lead to 17-3 when he took a sweep from his wide receiver position and cut through the line for a 4-yard touchdown run.
“I was excited, and I went out there and scored, so that was even better,” Harden said. “That was great. I hadn’t scored on offense in a long time. Since middle school. It felt good.”
Harden said he doesn’t know the whole playbook, but he is willing to play snaps on offense the rest of the season. He insists on doing anything to help the Blazers win in his senior year.
“I don’t know if we’ll continue to expand that package,” Dean said. “We probably will, but we’ve got to find ways to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers. He’s one of them.”
Even though Harden was taking snaps on offense, he didn’t miss a beat at his normal cornerback position. In the fourth quarter, he found himself in the right place at the right time when he intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 46 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. The score gave VSU a 31-3 lead.
It was his fourth interception return for a touchdown this season, which is a VSU record. He had one against Delta State, one against Southern Arkansas and one last week at Arkansas Tech that sealed a victory.
“That’s pretty good,” Harden said. “Any time you can break a school record, it means you’re doing something. I’d just like to thank God and everybody for helping me.”
Harden also has a fumble return for a touchdown to go along with his rushing touchdown and his four interception returns for touchdowns this season. His six total touchdowns lead the team.
When asked how he’s doing it, Harden thanked God.
“I’m just making plays out there,” he said.
Harden now has eight interceptions this season, one shy of Dallis Smith’s school record of nine, set in 1986. Harden passed Chris Fowler (seven interceptions) on Saturday, and now sits alone in second place.
The Blazers have one more regular season game on Thursday at West Alabama. Win or lose, they’ll probably have at least one playoff game, so Harden should get at least two chances to tie or break Smith’s record.
“It’ll be on my mind a little bit. I’m not going to tell you a story,” Harden said. “Hopefully that happens, and I’ll be in the school history books.”