Samuel D. Logan
The Valdosta Daily Times
The rain did not dampen the Valdosta State Blazers’ fire against the Shorter Hawks.
In the first half, the Blazers managed to put up 13 points with the help of an 18 yard run by running back Austin Scott and a 22 yard touchdown catch from quarterback Cayden Cochran to Seantavious Jones.
Despite a 13-0 halftime lead over the Hawks, the
first half was lackluster for the defending champs, only gaining 149 yards of total offense with possession of the ball for just under seven minutes. The Hawks significantly outgained the Blazers in total offense and time of possession, with 198 yards going into halftime and ball possession for 23 minutes, but no score on the board.
After being held without a catch in the first half, receiver Regginald Lewis caught a pass on the Blazers first drive of the 3rd quarter, taking it all the way to the house for a 65 yard touchdown.
“Not having a catch in the first half was good for me because it kept me focused on the game. After every series I didn’t get a catch, I kept telling the team on my first catch, I’m taking it to the house,” said Lewis.
The Blazer offense heated up in the second half, scoring on three of their first four drives in the 3rd quarter.
“Offensively we didn’t get the ball much in the first. Getting the touchdown in the second half really fired up the team,” said Valdosta State Head Coach David Dean.
Cochran went 7-16 for 74 yards in the first half, only to come out in the second half on fire. Cochran connected for two touchdowns, one to Lewis and the other to fullback Tevin Davis. Cochran finished 11-23 for 177 yards and three touchdowns before being taken out of the game to give backup Caleb Nobles some practice snaps.
“Early in the first half, I think he [Cochran] let the weather get to him. But we talked to him about it and he adjusted in the end,” said Dean.
The running game played an important factor in the win for the Blazers, collecting 240 combined rushing yards for the night.
Austin Scott led the team with 12 carries for 125 yards and two touchdowns, running a long one in for 45 yards in the third quarter.
“The o-line did their job up front and gave me a lot of room to run,” said Scott after the game.
Cedric O’ Neal also had a nice game, running the ball 8 times for 65 yards and breaking open on a 38 yard run to earn a touchdown score on the night. O’ Neal fumbled the ball on the VSU 1 yard line early in the game but was able to bounce back for the Blazers.
“I fumbled the ball. It was rainy and wet, but that’s not an excuse. I should have held the ball high and tight. I think I bounced back pretty well. When Coach Dean called the [run] play, the o-line did some great blocks, and I saw a seam and kept running for the touchdown,” said O’ Neal.
The “Black Swarm” defense was outstanding against the Hawks read option offense, causing havoc in the backfield with 10 tackles for losses and four fumble recoveries. The defense did not get any interceptions but they held the Hawks to just 312 yards of total offense. The Hawks had averaged 392 yards a game so far this season until the game.
The Blazer defense was able to hold Shorter to zero points, their first shut out in three years since beating University of North Alabama 5-0 on October 14, 2010.
“This was a very big shut out for us. We haven’t done it in a long time and it was needed,” said linebacker Jeremy Grable.
“I always like for the guys to have a shut out. It’s the first one we’ve had in a while, and we’ve been close a few times, but I’m really proud of the defensive staff and players for getting one in the first home game of the season,” said Dean.
“The offense we played is about assignment football and everyone did their job tonight,” added Grable.
Safety Lance Holder and and linebacker Chris Pope lead the team in tackles with 9 a piece and were key on a couple of defensive stops for the Blazers, including a forced fumble by Holder.
Pope continues to chase the VSU record for most tackles in a career, bringing his season tackle total to 14. Pope is currently 64 tackles away from breaking the record.
“They were a good offense but we had two weeks to prepare for them. We studied them and learned their tendencies. Good hard work payed off in the end for us,” said Pope.
Moving to 2-0 on the young season, the defending Division II National Champions are gearing up to prepare for their next game against Angelo State, a team VSU beat last season in Cowboys Stadium, now called AT&T Stadium, in Arlington, Texas.
The Blazers will kickoff against the Angelo State Rams at 7 p.m at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium next Saturday.