The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valdosta State football team will close out its conference schedule tonight when it visits the Shorter Hawks at Rome’s Barron Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
The game has been selected as the Gulf South Conference Game of the Week and will be broadcast live on CSS. Mediacom customers in the Valdosta area will be able to view the game on channel 230.
The game will also be made available on ESPN3.com and will be broadcast live to 6.5 million households.
The Hawks (4-4) are in their second year of a three-year transition process from the NAIA level to Division II and are competing against GSC teams, like Valdosta State, for the first time in school history. They are not eligible for postseason play this season, although the games do count towards conference records.
Shorter is 0-2 against GSC schools this season, losing to North Alabama (41-0) and West Alabama (49-7). Tonight will be the first-ever meeting between Valdosta State and Shorter, and will mark Shorter’s first-ever home conference game.
“North Alabama was playing some very good football then, and, of course, everybody knows how good West Alabama is,” Valdosta State head coach David Dean said. “So they have played two pretty good teams and they still have us, Delta and West Georgia to go. I think we all knew it was going to be a transition for them moving up to Division II.
“They have good athletes, I just don’t think they have the depth that some of these other Gulf South Conference schools have.”
While a win tonight would cap the Blazers’ record region at 5-1 and would position them nicely in securing a playoff seed out of Super Region 2, the Blazers, who were ranked fourth in the first regional rankings of the season, are approaching the final two weeks of the season as must wins in order to make the playoffs and possibly win the conference.
West Alabama has yet to lose a conference game, but still has games against Delta State (on Saturday) and North Alabama (Nov. 8).
“Division II football is Division II football, no matter what region you are in,” Dean said. “I think that is what they should go by — the Division II games that you play. Right now, we have two Division II games left. We have a Gulf South Conference game that we need to win and then sit back and put a little pressure on West Alabama because they have two tough games left.
“It’s like posting a good score and getting into the clubhouse and letting the leader see that score the whole way in, and that is basically what (West Alabama) is going to have to do for three Saturdays in a row.”
Valdosta State enters tonight’s game with Shorter riding a four-game winning streak, including three straight conference wins. Last Saturday, the Blazers beat rival Delta State 59-41 behind 624 yards of total offense.
VSU is hoping to keep that offensive production going tonight, despite being without wide receiver Quin Roberson (neck) and possibly offensive lineman Edmund Kugbila (knee), who was listed as questionable earlier this week.
The key in tonight’s game for the Blazer offense will be utilizing possessions, according to quarterback Cayden Cochran.
“We know they are a lot like some of the triple option teams we’ve played, and they are going to hold the ball for a lot of the game,” said Cochran about Shorter’s offense. “We looked at the West Alabama film and they ran 40-something plays on offense, where this (past) weekend we ran 80-something. So we are looking at it like an Edward Waters-type deal, where our offense is very limited and we can’t leave a possession to question. We have to score every time, because they are going to have the ball most of the game.”
Scoring on nearly every possession may not be difficult, given the Hawks have allowed 90 points in their two GSC games and have allowed an average of 427.5 yards per game. The Blazers are also averaging 42.5 points per contest.
A major part of VSU’s offensive production this season has been the exceptional play of receivers Gerald Ford and Seantavious Jones, both of whom lead the conference with nine touchdown catches each.
“First off, hats off to Seantavious, Stretch as we call him,” Ford said. “Whenever (defenses) focus on me, (Seantavious) kills them or Regginald (Lewis) kills them or Quin (Roberson) kills them. Whenever they focus on them, I just try to utilize my chances. So pick your poison.”
Defensively, the Blazers will look to slow down the run-based Shorter offense, which is similar in style to that of West Alabama, Edward Waters and North Alabama, all teams the Blazers have faced this season.
“We are not really panicking as much trying to get the scheme down,” cornerback Matt Pierce said. “We have been through this, so we are just going back over, re-touching some things and moving some stuff around. We feel pretty good.”
Like the Blazer offense, the defense will be without several players tonight. Nose tackle Andrew Lauristen (ankle) is out, along with defensive back Xzavier Crane (broken arm).
Defensive tackle Lawrence Virgil will play despite injuring his ankle/foot last week.
Led by quarterback Eric Dobson (703 yards passing, 500 yards rushing, 11 total touchdowns), a graduate of Thomas County Central High School, and running back Bradley Moon (692 yards rushing, 9 touchdowns), the Hawks average 362.2 yards per game, 274 of which comes on the ground.
Dean said he remembers Dobson well from his playing days at TCC and said he is a dangerous player for the Hawks this season.
“I had (Dobson) in camp,” Dean said. “I went to a camp up in Cochran (Ga.) every year, so I had him up there. He is a heck of a player and is a really good kid. He comes from a class organization over there at Thomas County Central. That is a winning program. I know he is going to be one of those guys that is hard to beat. He does a very good job at running that offense.”
Although tonight’s game will mark the first time the Blazers will face the Hawks, it is not the first time they have played at Barron Field. VSU played Carson-Newman in the inaugural game of the Nick Hyder Classic in 1997.
To help get a larger attendance at tonight’s game, Shorter will honor its two NAIA national championship teams (softball and men’s) from a year ago and it will also honor the men’s basketball team, the men’s and women’s cross country team and men’s and women’s track teams for NAIA conference championships last season.
Who: Valdosta State (6-2) at Shorter (4-4)
When: Tonight, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Barron Stadium, Rome
Last time: First-ever meeting
TV: CSS channel xx on Mediacom
Radio: 92.1 FM, 92.9 FM, 1150 AM, 96.1 FM