The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valdosta State football team knows another region loss will likely result in a second straight season without a playoff appearance.
With their backs against the wall, the Blazers are approaching each week with a one-game at a time mentality. And with rival North Alabama on the schedule for this week, the Blazers aren’t having any problems focusing.
“Everybody is a little more focused because it is North Alabama,” wide receiver Quin Roberson said. “It is a big rivalry. I mean this is only my second year, but I can kind of tell the school spirit is a little different when you are playing North (Alabama).”
Focus is key this week, which was started off with a two-plus hour practice Tuesday afternoon.
“I was pleased today,” Valdosta State head coach David Dean said Tuesday afternoon. “I was pleased with our effort, our concentration.”
In recent weeks, the Blazers have been able to translate good practices on Tuesday to a victory on Saturday. The week of their loss to West Alabama, Dean said he was not overly impressed with the Tuesday practice.
“I wish it was that easy,” Dean said. “If you practice well, you usually play well. Hopefully, we continue to do so. We have had good practices and we have played well.”
The extra focus by the Blazers could be a result for knowing what rides on a win or loss Saturday night in Florence, Ala. A loss would likely eliminate the Blazers, who enter with a 4-2 overall record but a 2-1 record in region, from playoff contention, while a victory could position them in the upper part of the region standings.
The Lions are 5-1 overall and 3-0 in region play.
“I talked about it on Sunday,” Dean said. “I said ‘the last two times we’ve been in the playoffs, North Alabama has knocked us out. Last year, we were sitting in a position where if we win that, we go (to the playoffs) and they beat us. So technically, three of the last five years, they have beaten us for a playoff spot, and we don’t want to let that happen again.’
“There is a little more to lose from our standpoint,” Dean continued. “They could probably lose and be all right with the way the South Region is set. They probably have a mulligan if they don’t play well and we happen to beat them. I don’t think we are as lucky.”
The Blazers are coming off a dominating 42-7 win over West Georgia last weekend. In the win, the defense dominated and held the Wolves to seven punts and two interceptions, while the offense scored on six of its 14 offensive possessions, including four straight at one-point.
“It felt good,” Roberson said. “I feel like we are playing very well on offense and the defense is very impressive right now, holding people. So we feel very good going into this game.”
The performance by the defense was an indication of how improved the unit has become over recent weeks. Since allowing 332 yards rushing in a 39-28 loss to West Alabama last month, the Blazers have posted back-to-back victories where they have been able to stop the run. In the two wins, the Blazers’ opponents have combined for just 253 yards rushing.
“The scheme that our defensive coordinators (Seth Wallace and Earl Chambers) created definitely got us going,” senior defensive end Tyler Josey said of the win over West Georgia. “We came out and had a really good week of practice last week. But, everybody played assignment football. I like what I saw. Everybody knew who they had each play and everybody did what they were supposed to do each play.”
This week, the Blazers face another running team in North Alabama, which averages 237.2 yards rushing per game.
The defense will be challenged again this week.
“It seems like we have to go out there and get used to how they are playing and what they are doing,” Dean said. “I would like to see us play much better on the first drive, but if we keep playing the way we have after the first drive, I’ll take the yardage they are giving up.”