Samuel D. Logan
The Valdosta Daily Times
It was, once again, a tale of two halves for the Valdosta State Blazers as they pulled out a 35-30 win over Gulf South Conference rivals the West Georgia Wolves.
The Blazers finished the day with 440 yards of total offense, 158 yards rushing and 282 yards through the air in the victory.
The Blazer offense struggled through the first half as West Georgia accomplished something no team has done to the Blazers since Arkansas Tech on Sept. 22, 2007, a first half shut out.
West Georgia running back Quan Jones scored a one-yard touchdown on West Georgia’s first drive of the game.
Kicker Mark Bardenwerper made a field goal in the second quarter after Regginald Lewis muffed a punt and was recovered by the Wolves.
The Blazers entered the half down 10-0.
The Blazers continued their streak of slow first halves and still, no Blazer had an answer for the first half production.
“I really don’t even know. It confuses me. We just have to start coming out and play a full game,” said receiver Seantavious Jones.
The Blazers head coach David Dean spoke to his team at the half about execution and it showed through the second half that his team listened.
“We just challenged the players a little bit (at the half). We told them that we needed to do some things better. No screaming or yelling at all. It's good to know that we responded well. We scored 35 points in about a quarter and a half,” said Dean.
The Blazers received the ball to start the third quarter and quickly went three and out, with both Cayden Cochran and Regginald Lewis getting on the drive.
While Lewis returned to the game, Cochran did not, and was replaced by freshman quarterback Kaleb Nobles.
Nobles proved to be the spark the Blazers needed on offense.
Nobles went 19-21 for 238 yards and threw four touchdown passes to help the Blazers power past the Wolves. Nobles went 15-15 before throwing his first incomplete pass of the game.
Nobles took over an offense that struggled through the air in the first half, with Cochran throwing 8-15 for 44 yards and an interception before he left the game.
“It was pretty cool to see all the smiles on the guys' faces. We have to be more consistent in all phases of the game because we can do things on offense that other teams can’t do,” Nobles said.
Nobles found senior receiver Seantavious Jones for three touchdown scores in the game and completed 11 passes to the receiver in just the second half.
“We have enough playmakers on the field, all we have to do is get the ball to them. There is nothing I did that Cayden couldn’t do, and I hope he gets better soon,” added Nobles. “From January to July, throwing the ball everyday helped building a relationship with Seantavious. It helped me know that if I throw the ball up his way, he will catch it.”
Coach Dean was proud of the effort his freshman quarterback put forth in a tough situation.
“What he did coming off the bench when Cayden got hurt was amazing. Nobles gave us a huge spark in the game. We have confidence in Kaleb and every week he practices as if he will be the starter so he was able to step up and make the throws he did in the game today,” said Dean.
Jones had a career game as he hauled in 11 catches for 187 yards and three touchdowns in the victory. Jones previously had four 100-plus yard receiving games before this contest and left the game with five. Jones also broke his single game catch record of nine catches with 11 today.
“Practice makes perfect. We came out and played hard and it showed. It felt good to come out and show everyone what I can do,” said Jones. “Getting to practice with all the quarterbacks helps out a lot. If you perfect something in practice, you can come into the game and execute with few bumps.”
Sophomore running backs Cedric O’Neal and Austin Scott played an important part in the second half of the game, with O’Neal scoring the Blazers final touchdown to seal the victory. O’Neal finished with 97 yards on 17 attempts and a touchdown while Scott finished with 48 yards on 13 carries.
Receivers Regginald Lewis and Roshmel Young helped the Blazer offense also, with Lewis pulling in five catches for 48 yards and Young scoring the Blazers' second touchdown of the day on his only catch of the game from five yards out.
The defense also had a shaky first half, allowing the Wolves to go up 17-0 before the Blazers first offensive score. The second half was different as the Blazers came together to hold the Wolves to 416 yards of total offense and stopped the Wolves on pivotal drives. Two of the drives in question were ended by a Kenny Moore interception and a Lawrence Virgil forced fumble and was recovered by linebacker Justin Williams.
Kenny Moore is a freshman from the Lowndes Vikings and Justin Williams is a junior linebacker from Valdosta High.
The Blazer defense was led by Chris Pope, who inched within three tackles of tying Blazer and Atlanta Falcon legendary linebacker Jessie Tuggle’s career tackle record of 340. Pope finished the game with 16 tackles, with 1.5 for loss.
“I can get a lot better. I missed a few tackles, but I played my hardest trying to get this win,” said Pope.
“When we got back on the field in the second half, we knew what time it was. We had to build momentum and find a way to get excited, and we carried on through the entire game,” added Pope.
When asked about being one game away from breaking Tuggle’s record, Pope humbly said, “I just want to win. That’s all I care about and I’ll do anything to help my team win. If breaking the record comes along with it, then it is what it is, but it’s not my goal.”
The ‘Black Swarm’ linebackers had a nice game overall, with senior Jeremy Grable recording eight tackles and junior Justin Williams picking up seven tackles, with 1.5 for loss and a fumble recovery for 26 yards.
The secondary was a soft spot for the Blazer defense, with senior cornerback Dominique Wheeler giving up a long touchdown pass on play action and cornerback Isaiah Gresham being ejected for targeting a receiver early in the second half.
“One thing we were afraid of was their play action. The defense let a long play action pass go for a touchdown, and we knew we had to tighten up the coverage,” said Dean.
The Blazers were awarded with the coveted ‘Peach Basket,' the award for the school that wins the annual matchup between the Blazers and Wolves.
The Blazers will be back home for their contest against the University of North Alabama, 2 p.m., Oct. 26, Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.