The Valdosta Daily Times
ARLINGTON, Texas —
In one of the greatest sports venues ever built, featuring two universities from two states that produce some of the best high school football talent, the Valdosta State football team put together another dominating performance for its fans.
The 18th-ranked Blazers blew out the Angelo State Rams 43-10 on the final day of the Lone Star Football Festival at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday afternoon to win their second straight game.
“I was really proud with the way our kids handled all of the distractions that go along with this incredible place,” Valdosta State head coach David Dean said. “We talked all week about coming out here and concentrating on playing well against a very good football team. To our kids’ credit, that is exactly what they did.”
The Valdosta State offense dominated the highly touted Angelo State defense, which entered Saturday’s game allowing just 228 yards per game. On Saturday, the Blazers made the Ram defense look like the definition of average.
Led by strong performances from quarterback Cayden Cochran, wide receiver Gerald Ford and freshman running back Austin Scott, the Blazers racked up 520 yards of total offense and scored five touchdowns, including four in the red zone, to blow out the Rams and improve to 2-1 on the season.
“I think that is an outstanding defensive team,” Dean said. “We caught them in some situations where our two running backs, Austin Scott and Cedric O’Neal, made some people miss and did an outstanding job, and our offensive line did a great job at opening up holes. And Cayden did an excellent job at making reads and making the throws to the right players.”
The Blazers’ defense was also quite dominant. The Black Swarm was in full force Saturday, holding the Rams to seven punts, four three-and-outs and just 262 yards of total offense on the day.
“I think, for the most part, we just flew around to the football,” Dean said. “They’ve got an outstanding team. We knew they were going to hit us with some play action. We knew they had a great quarterback, a great running back. It was just a matter of reading our keys and making plays. I think the bottom line was, we flew around and we put a lot of hats on the ball.”
After Angelo State opened the game with a commanding 13-play, 73-yard drive that ended with a field goal, the Blazer defense increased its intensity. Over the Rams’ next four offensive possessions, ASU ran a total of 13 plays for just 47 yards. The Blazers forced the Rams to three straight three-and-outs that totaled just 8 yards of offense.
“I think we settled down on defense,” Dean said.
Meanwhile, the Blazer offense found a groove, scoring on three straight first half possessions to take a 17-3 lead.
The Rams finally moved the chains on their final drive of the first half, using three straight passes to record three straight first downs.
Much like their opening drive, the Rams moved into the red zone, where the Blazer defense stepped up to force a field goal attempt. Then the Rams muffed the snap, and the Blazers batted down a pass to keep the score 17-3.
The Rams weren’t much better in the second half. After starting the second half with a 6-play, 47-yard touchdown drive that cut the Blazers’ lead to 17-10, the Rams were held to a safety and three punts across their final four possessions of the game.
Cochran finished the game 16 of 28 passing for 173 yards and two touchdowns, both of which went to Ford, who hauled in seven passes for 110 yards and two scores.
“(Ford) is a great route runner. He is the kind of guy that wants the ball every play,” Cochran said. “He is a big target, and he has some of the best hands on the team. It is very relaxing having a guy like that on your team.”
Austin Scott finished with his first career 100-yard rushing performance, tallying 131 yards on the day. Cedric O’Neal finished with 77 yards rushing, and Eric Scott added 75 yards on the ground as the Blazers ran for 292 yards.
For Cochran, the game marked his return from a separated shoulder he suffered in the week 1 loss to Saginaw Valley State. The game also took place just three hours from his hometown of Cashion, Okla.
“It is what I thought about in treatments,” said Cochran when asked about playing in front of over 60 fans from his hometown. “The Fort Valley week, I knew I was going to be out. I wanted to play in Cowboys Stadium, and play in front of a lot of people that came to watch me play because it is so close.”
Valdosta State found the scoreboard on its third drive of the game when Daniel Andersen drilled a 19-yard chip-shot field goal that evened the score at 3-3. The Blazers were unable to pound the ball into the end zone, despite having first-and-goal from the 1, which was set up by a one-handed catch by Ford.
On their next two drives, the Blazers found the end zone. Austin Scott broke free for a 62-yard touchdown run. Then Cochran found Ford, who eluded the entire defense and raced across the field for a 24-yard touchdown.
After Angelo State opened the second half with its touchdown drive, the Blazers regained momentum when Andersen threw a 39-yard pass to linebacker Trokon Gaye on a fourth-and-2 play near midfield. The play moved the Blazers into field goal range, where Andersen connected on a 33-yard field goal to make the score 20-10.
“At that time, (Angelo State) had cut the score down to 17-10, they had got some big plays right before the half, so you could kind of see the momentum kind of shift to them,” Dean said. “We went three-and-out to start the second half, and we didn’t get the first down, and I said, ‘If we punt the ball back to them, we are going to give them momentum.’ I thought that was the right time to (run a fake punt).”
On the ensuing kickoff, Angelo State’s returner caught the ball and stepped out of bounds at the Ram 3. After a false start moved the Rams back to their own 2, VSU defensive tackle Lawrence Virgil forced his way into the backfield to sack Angelo State quarterback Blake Hamblin for a safety. The defensive points gave the Blazers a 22-10 lead.
After receiving the safety punt, the Blazers scored on their next three possessions to finish the game. Cochran found Ford for a 26-yard touchdown to give the Blazers a 29-10 lead. The touchdown catch was Ford’s fifth in the last two games.
“I am not a big stat guy,” Ford said. “I just try to go out there and work within our game plan. I don’t try and make it all about myself.”
After another impressive drive by the Blazer defense, the offense went right back to work. Cochran led VSU down the field with his arm and feet, and back into the red zone, where O’Neal found the end zone on a 1-yard touchdown run.
The Blazers capped the scoring late in the fourth quarter, when backup quarterback Graham Craig found redshirt freshman wide receiver Chris Anderson for a 16-yard touchdown connection.
The Blazers host West Alabama Saturday at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium in the Gulf South Conference opener for both teams. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.