The Valdosta Daily Times
Valdosta State and University of North Alabama made history Saturday when they met for the 37th time in the rivalry’s 32 years, just not the type of football history VSU wanted.
The Lions came into Bazemore-Hyder stadium and handed the Blazers their worst loss in the school’s history, 57-7.
Big plays from the offense and defense paced UNA as the Lions racked up 536 yards of total offense and six turnovers on the way to a historic victory.
While UNA seemed to get a big play every time they were looking for it, VSU seemed to bumble away each opportunity they got to try to get back into the game.
“They’re a good football team and they just out executed us today,” said Valdosta State head football coach David Dean. “Unfortunately, offensively, we didn’t make plays. We had several good throws, but we just dropped the ball. Turnovers when we were moving the ball down-field. I thought that playing that defense when we were able to move the ball that was a positive, but they were turning into turnovers when we got into the red zone.”
Early on, it looked like the game would follow the mold of the close, exciting games these two teams have played in the past.
The Lions struck first with a 62-yard completion on a flea-flicker to get UNA into the red zone, but the Blazers defense held up to force a field-goal.
On VSU’s ensuing drive, Cayden Cochran tossed the first of his career high four interceptions of the day at VSU’s 36-yard line (after only six all season), but again the Blazers defense would hold with Tevin Davis providing a big sack on third down to knock the Lions out of field-goal range.
This time, Valdosta State’s offense would be able to capitalize.
Cochran dropped a pass perfectly over two defenders into the hands of Chris Anderson for a 28-yard touchdown with five seconds in the first quarter.
But as the final second ticked off of the clock in the first quarter, it seemed like both teams' play started going in opposite directions.
Korey Jones of UNA hauled in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Luke Wingo to take a 9-7 lead (missed extra point) and the Lions never looked back.
The Blazers looked to respond, driving into the redzone, but Cochran unloaded a pass off of his back foot into the endzone which was picked off.
The Lions kept the pressure on high by driving right down field for another score to give UNA a 16-7 lead with five minutes before the half.
Following a field-goal block by the Lions and a punt block by the Blazers, Cochran threw his third interception of the half and North Alabama was able to get a field goal before halftime.
While Cochran was off, he wasn’t getting much help from his receivers. Dropped balls and passes tipped into the air all added to the struggles of the passing attack.
“They weren’t his fault,” said Dean of Cochran’s interceptions. “Receivers were dropping balls and tipped balls. We had an interference down here they didn’t call that ended up being an interception. All of those are things that aren’t his fault. He was playing very well. He played good, put the balls where they needed to be, but from a wideout stand point, we weren’t making the plays.”
If the first half was bad, the second half was a nightmare.
UNA kept up the intensity in the second half and VSU kept missing opportunities.
After reaching the redzone with a chance to cut the lead to three points, Anderson fumbled a ball that Lamar Smith picked up and took 83 yards the other way for a touchdown to take a 26-7 lead, and with that, the rout was on.
North Alabama would score on a touchdown on four of their next seven possessions (with a field-goal thrown in) while holding Valdosta State’s offense to 144 yards during that span — 56 of which came on the final drive of the game.
The end result would be a 57-7 victory for the Lions over the #11 team in Division II football.
Despite the miscues from the entire team, Cochran took the blame for the loss.
When asked how much blame did he put on himself for the offense, Cochran responded, “All of it. It starts at the top and it trickles down. It starts with me.”
While VSU will have a lot of work to do before next week’s game against Delta State, one positive to be taken from this game is that Chris Pope’s six tackles moved him into second place on Valdosta State’s all-time tackle list ahead of Atlanta Falcon’s legend Jessie Tuggle.
Despite the major accomplishment, Pope was not willing to talk personal achievements after such a devastating loss.
“After this loss right here, it’s the last thing on my mind,” said Pope. “I’m just trying to focus on getting us back together. We’ve got to finish these last three games. That’s all I’m thinking about.”
Pope and the Blazers will get a chance for redemption when they return to action 5 p.m. next Saturday when they travel to Cleveland, Miss., to face GSC foe Delta State at Cleveland Field.