Samuel D. Logan
The Valdosta Daily Times
CLEVELAND, Miss. —
The Valdosta State Blazers fell to 5-3 with a loss to the Delta State Statesmen in an offensive showdown Saturday with a final score of 63-55.
“We never got them off the field, and that killed us. Third downs was bad for us. I can’t be any more proud than I am at these guys. To keep fighting back to have an opportunity to win,” said Head Coach David Dean. “(Kaleb) Nobles has been in our system for a year now and he works every day for this opportunity. I give him a lot of credit.”
Despite the loss, the Blazer offense was effective still, gaining a total of 535 yards of total offense.
Running back Austin Scott ran the ball 12 times for 92 yards, while Cedric O’Neal ran 11 times for 70 yards.
“I was just out there trying to make plays and give our offense a chance,” said Scott. Cayden Cochran did not play for the Blazers, sidelined by a reoccurring ankle injury.
Getting the chance to start in his first Blazer football game, freshman quarterback Nobles gave an outstanding effort during the game, completing the day going 31-51 for 351 yards and six touchdowns, all to senior receiver Seantavious Jones.
“Those three interceptions really killed us. I take the loss 100 percent on my shoulders. It was a big game but there wasn’t extra pressure on me. I just didn’t get the job done enough to get the victory,” said Nobles.
Jones was unstoppable in the game, pulling in nine catches for 143 yards and six touchdowns. With the six touchdown receptions, Jones broke VSU’s record for most touchdown catches in a single game, previously set at five touchdowns. Jones is now the sole holder of the record that was set 20 years ago.
“(Breaking the record) is good and all, but we still took the loss, so I can’t be too happy about it,” said Jones. “The whole team played well tonight and I’m proud nobody gave up. We played until the end.”
The Statesmen received the ball first and quickly showcased their fast-paced offense. The Statesmen scored the first touchdown of the day on a pass to receiver Ricky Hunt from redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Sullivan, making the score 7-0.
The Blazers answered back immediately however, putting together a drive including first down receptions to receivers Chris Anderson, Willie Downs and a drive-capping 18-yard touchdown to Jones. The score then moved to 7-7.
The first half was a test for the Blazer defense, surrendering a numerous amount of third down conversions to the Statesmen. In the first half however, the Blazer defense was able force a fumble and two interceptions, one for a touchdown.
Linebacker Jeremy Grable, responsible for the fumble recovery, finished the day with nine tackles, one for a loss, and the fumble recovery.
“I think we played good at times, but what killed us was the third downs. We had so many conversions we gave up. Other than that, we played solid. Overall, big plays killed us,” said Grable.
Cornerback Dominique Wheeler was held out of the game for a few series in the first quarter due to a violation of team rules. Wheeler returned to the game and proceeded to intercept Sullivan twice, and returned one back for a Blazer touchdown.
“I feel like we finished strong, but started slow. We regrouped and played well the second half. We scored twice on defense and caused three turnovers,” said Wheeler.
Linebacker Chris Pope was all over the field, accumulating 20 tackles, putting him just five away from holding the record for career tackles in VSU and Gulf South Conference history.
The score going into halftime was 28-21 with Delta State holding the lead. VSU was unable to take a lead at any point in the game.
VSU linebacker Kenny Murphy scored a 30-yard touchdown in the first half off a Sullivan interception. VSU scored their other two touchdowns of the half on touchdown receptions by Jones from Nobles, giving the Blazers their 21.
The Statesmen were able to score on two touchdown passes from Sullivan, in addition to a sneak for a score by Sullivan himself. The other touchdown was a short run by Richard Freelon, to make up the Statesmen 28-21 lead going into the half.
On the Blazers first drive of the second half, the team drove all the way down the field but failed to convert a 4th and 1 at the Delta State 28-yard line.
The Black Swarm defense came out and held the Statesmen to a 4th and 6; however a costly penalty on the Blazers continued the drive and Delta State punched the ball in for a quarterback sneak, making the score 35-21.
After another VSU drive stalled, helped by a holding penalty on 4th and 7, the Statesmen scored once more making the score 42-21.
On the next drive, receiver Regginald Lewis caught two big first down passes and Austin Scott ran for another first down, leading up to a big touchdown catch by Jones, making the score 42-27 after VSU had the extra point blocked.
Delta State was not done yet, however. The Black Swarm defense was unable to stop the Statesmen as they scored once more on a Freelon run.
On the Statesmen’s next series, Sullivan was intercepted by Wheeler, who took it to the house for a VSU touchdown, making the score 49-34.
The momentum began to swing in the Blazers favor, stringing together a drive led by Nobles’ 50-yard throw to Jones. O’Neal carried the ball three times on this drive for a combined 22 yards to move the Blazers into a goal situation. After a pass interference call on fourth down went in the Blazers favor, Jones proceeded to haul in his fourth touchdown of the night. The score stood 49-41 at this time.
Once again, the defense could not hold on, allowing the Statesmen to score once more, making the score 56-41.
On the next possession, Nobles found Jones for their fifth touchdown connection of the night, making the score 56-48.
With two minutes left, the Blazers tried an onside kick but allowed the Statesmen to recover and run it into the end zone for a touchdown, putting them ahead of the Blazers 63-48.
The Blazers then tried another onside kick and once again failed to recover.
With little time moving from the clock, the Statesmen punted the ball short and was recovered by Lewis. Lewis, who played quarterback all throughout high school, took the ball and delivered a screen pass to Scott, who took the ball all the way to the Statesmen 4-yard line. A few plays later, Nobles found Jones for their sixth touchdown of the night, making the score 63-55.
The Blazers had a chance to score once again with 21 seconds left in the game, but were unable to drive the 94 yards needed to close with a victory.
The Blazers will face off against UNC-Pembrooke at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
Notes: Seantvious Jones now has 12 touchdowns on the season. Freshman quarterback Kaleb Nobles started his first game for the Blazers today. Nobles now has 10 touchdowns in 3 games for the Blazers, with 9 of the 10 going to Jones. Only one field goal was attempted in the game and was missed by the Blazers. Jones, who was 5th on the list prior to the game, moves up to tie for 2nd all time at VSU for touchdown receptions.