The Valdosta Daily Times
Just minutes after the Valdosta State football team fell to 2-2 on the young season following a loss to conference rival West Alabama, Blazer head coach David Dean said his players were angry and that they wanted another shot at the Tigers.
Their wish has been granted.
The Blazers will host their conference rival Saturday at noon in the second round of the Division II football playoffs. And for the Blazers, sweet redemption and revenge is clearly on their minds this week as they prepare for the showdown with the Tigers.
“We really have revenge on our shoulders and we think if they come here again, we are going to beat them,” linebacker Jeremy Grable said Tuesday. “I really want to beat them. They will be a great team to beat.”
Added Dean: “Anytime you have the opportunity to avenge a loss, it makes it that more interesting. Secretly, I think we were kind of pulling for West Alabama (last week). We do have that opportunity to play those guys again. When you play those guys and they get the best of you early in the season and you have a chance to avenge that loss, a lot has to be said for that.”
The Blazers lost the Sept. 22 meeting by 11 points — 39-28 — in a game where the Tigers racked up 332 yards rushing on 56 carries for three touchdowns. West Alabama senior running back Matt Willis led the way with 181 yards, although it was backup quarterback Gary Johnston who finished with 124 yards and a touchdown.
“Gary Johnston is the guy that killed us the first time around,” Dean said. “We couldn’t contain him. He did a very good job at breaking tackles in the ball game.”
The defense’s inability to slow down the Tigers is a major talking point this week for the Blazers.
“Completely, no disrespect to them, but I have a grudge on my shoulder,” said Grable, who was injured in the first half of the previous meeting this season. … It has been big.”
After losing to West Alabama in the regular season meeting, the Blazers are focused on what went wrong the first time around and how things can be different this time. One thing, says defensive end Tyler Josey, is the Blazers simply need to play better.
“We just have to come out and play better this time,” said Josey, who dyed his 5-month old beard black with the rest of his teammates. “I think our game plan last time was fine. We just have to come in and play better on defense.”
One Blazer looking for a bounce back performance against the Tigers is quarterback Cayden Cochran. In the early season meeting, quarterback Cayden Cochran completed 7 of 19 passes for 173 yards with two touchdowns before being pulled in the second half with a shoulder injury.
The year before, in the Blazers’ 22-21 win over the Tigers, Cochran completed 22 of 33 passes for 144 yards with an interception.
Neither performance sits well with Cochran.
“I watched the film again (on Monday) — I’ve watched the film three of four times — and the mistakes we made, we beat ourselves,” Cochran said. “Penalties, missed throws, stuff like that really hurt us. And that is what hurts the most is that we got beat and there are more things we could have done to eradicate that and move forward.”