The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valdosta State football team will face the Winston-Salem State Rams in the NCAA Division II National Championship Game Saturday at 1 p.m. Eastern at Braly Municipal Stadium in Florence, Ala.
The meeting will be the first-ever meeting between the two teams. The Blazers advanced to the national championship game after going 8-2 in regular season play, finishing second in the Gulf South Conference and earning the region’s top seed. In the playoffs, VSU beat West Alabama (49-21), Carson-Newman (48-26) and Minnesota State-Mankato (35-19).
Winston-Salem State advanced to its first-ever national championship with a perfect 14-0 record. The Rams won the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference this season, earning the school’s seventh playoff appearance.
After playing a weaker conference schedule — their CIAA opponents combined for a 38-44 record — the Rams defeated Shippensburg (37-14), Indiana (Pa.) (21-17) and West Texas A&M (41-18) in the playoffs.
Winston-Salem State is just the second Historically Black College and University (HBCU) school to advance to the national championship game, joining Central State of Ohio, which made the title game in 1983.
If the Rams are victorious Saturday over the Blazers, they would become just the fifth team to win a championship with a perfect, undefeated 15-0 record. Minnesota-Duluth was the last team to accomplish the 15-0 championship season in 2008 and 2010.
Winston-Salem is averaging 483.1 yards per game, including 292.6 yards through the air and 190.5 yards rushing. The Rams are averaging 42.6 points per game and allowing just 16.1 points.
Quarterback Kameron Smith has completed 198 of 322 passes for 3,043 yards with 42 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while running for 320 yards with four scores.
Running back Maurice Lewis leads the team with 969 yards rushing on just 185 attempts with a team-high 13 touchdowns.
Much like the Blazers, the Rams have multiple weapons in their receiving corps. Jahuann Butler has 1,167 yards receiving on 58 catches with 12 touchdowns, while Jameze Massey has 1,156 yards on 56 catches with 14 touchdowns. Jamal Williams has 767 yards on 49 catches with 12 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Rams are allowing 89.1 yards rushing and 204.6 yards passing for a total of 293.8 yards per game, which is ninth best in the country.
The Rams rank second in the nation in opponents’ pass efficiency but 24th in pass defense.
Winston-Salem is ninth in the nation in turnover margin. Last week, the Blazers did not turn the ball over against Mankato, the nation’s second ranked team in turnover margin.
Throughout the season, the Rams have been drawing a high number of fans at their games. In seven home games this season, Winston-Salem State has drawn 53,986 fans, an average of 7,712 fans per game. WSSU is expected to have a high number of fans at this week’s championship game.
Winston-Salem State is making its seventh playoff appearance in school history, while Valdosta State is making its 12th. The Rams are 6-6 all-time in the playoffs.
Last year, the Rams advanced to the national semifinals, but fell to national-runner up Wayne State, which fell to Pittsburg State in the national championship game.
Winston-Salem State has been competing at the Division II level since 2010. Previously, WSSU competed at the Division I level, and the Division I-FCS level in football.
The Rams finished their final season as a member of Division I-FCS with a 1-9 record, competing our of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with the likes of Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M.
A historically black university, Winston-Salem State is located in Winston-Salem, N.C., and has an enrollment of 6,442, according to the university website.