The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valdosta State football team will host the Carson-Newman Eagles in the NCAA Division II National Quarterfinals at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium today. Kickoff is set for noon.
“All I have heard (the players) talk about is Carson-Newman,” Valdosta State head coach David Dean.
“They are looking at Carson-Newman and they know the challenge that is ahead of them. The big thing for us is to not have a big let down after an emotional win last week.”
The Blazers and Eagles were ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in Super Region 2, when the playoff field was announced last month. Both teams were awarded bye’s in the opening round of the playoffs. Last week, Valdosta State beat West Alabama 49-21, while Carson-Newman used a late touchdown to get past Lenoir-Rhyne 38-35.
Today is the seventh all-time meeting between the Blazers and Eagles and the sixth meeting that has come in the postseason. The series is currently tied 3-3, although Valdosta State has won three of the previous four meetings, including the most recent in the 2008 playoffs.
“We don’t have an opportunity to play those guys very much in the regular season, so it has been in the postseason,” Dean said of the meetings. “There is a lot on the line and I know they are well coached. There is a reason why they are where they are. They have good athletes, they’re big and physical and they are very good at what they do, offensively.”
Carson-Newman features an impressive triple-option, veer offensive attack that averages 480 yards and 40.7 points per game.
Quarterback Brandon Haywood has thrown for 1,065 yards with seven touchdowns, rushed for 945 yards and has a team-high 15 rushing touchdowns in 11 games this season.
Running back Brandon Baker leads the team with 1,313 yards rushing with 12 touchdowns, while Tyron Douglas has 688 yards with 10 touchdowns. Andy Hibbett has rushed for 622 yards with six touchdowns this season.
“Everything happens so fast. It is very tough on your linebackers because they have to fill the hole, but then the quarterback can pull it out and go,” Dean said. “The scary thing is, the quarterback ran it 34 times last week and their running backs ran it 27 and 24. So who you going to key on? It is very tough to do.”
Defensively, Carson-Newman runs a base 4-3 defense and allows 399.5 yards per game.
“They play a solid base and there isn’t much trickery,” captain and left tackle Cam Short said. “They are not going to try and scare you with anything. Basically what they do, they come out, play a base 4-3 and say, ‘beat us.’”
Valdosta State enters today’s game riding a seven-game win streak, which dates back to Sept. 29. During the winning streak, the Blazers are averaging 43 points per game, largely because of their ability to mix in the run and the pass.
Freshmen running backs Cedric O’Neal and Austin Scott have combined for 1,675 yards and 18 touchdowns this season, while the Blazers are averaging 261.1 yards passing per game.
“I would say there has been a lot of folks come out and give a great effort, but in the end, we have kept the peddle down and lots has worked out for us,” Short said. “I’m not saying we aren’t lucky, because we’ve some bounces go our way, but everything keeps going our way and hopefully it continues.”
The Blazer offense will be without one key weapon today. Junior receiver Regginald Lewis has been suspended by the NCAA for an illegal hit on West Alabama’s kicker during last week’s game. Lewis is second in receptions with 50 this season at Valdosta State.
The winner of today’s game will face either Minnesota State-Mankato or Missouri Western State in the national semifinals next weekend.