The Valdosta State football team closes out its regular season and can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Texas A&M-Kingsville Javelinas tonight at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.
The two teams will meet in non-conference action as the Gulf South Conference TV Game of the Week. The game will be broadcast live on CSS. Mediacom customers can view the game at channel 230. The game will also be available on espn3.com. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
“I look for (Kingsville) to come in and give us their best,” Valdosta State head coach David Dean said. “I don’t how they sit over in that region, but I’m sure if I were their coach, with all the different things going on, I would tell them, ‘if you win this one, you have a shot of sneaking back into a playoff picture.’”
Valdosta State knows exactly where it sits in the Super Region 2 playoff race. The Blazers, ranked 24th in both national polls, are ranked third in the region and have positioned themselves for a home playoff game with a victory in tonight’s season finale.
“We have pretty much been thinking of it as win or go home,” defensive end Tyler Josey said. “If we lose, we may not have a chance of going. We just need to get this win and get that spot. We want the win so we can play at home. You can’t take a loss this late because you always have that chance of not making it.”
The Blazers (7-2) enter tonight’s game riding a five-game winning streak, following a 37-6 win over Shorter last Thursday. The Javelinas (5-4) enter riding a three-game winning streak, which has followed a four-game losing streak earlier in the season.
VSU enters with a full week off to prepare, while Kingsville faced the difficult challenge of playing Saturday night in Texas and then traveling on a bus to Valdosta.
“It is pretty normal for us,” Dean said. “We are still doing the same practice schedule, but it has been a pretty normal week for us...It is tough (for Kingsville). I wouldn’t want to be in their situation, not just from the long travel, but having to play on a Saturday night and having to play on a Thursday night on the road. That is not easy to do. We’ve done it.”
Despite being located in separate regions of the United States, Valdosta State and Kingsville share common opponents this season.
Both teams beat Angelo State this year — the Blazers won 43-10 and Kingsville won 34-21 last week — although Valdosta State was able to beat rival North Alabama and Kingsville was not. The Javelinas fell to the Lions 21-16 on the first weekend in October.
While Valdosta State has enjoyed much success since establishing its football program in 1982, Kingsville has been enjoying success since the 1940’s. The Javelinas won seven NAIA national championships before joining the Division II ranks and have claimed 27 Lone Star Conference championships.
The two storied Division II programs have met once before, in the 2002 national semifinal in Valdosta. The Blazers won the game and advanced to the national championship, which they lost to Grand Valley State.
“All I remember from that game was it was a physical football game,” said Dean, who served as the Blazers’ offense coordinator that season. “Their front seven was real good and their corners were the two best corners we saw that year. It was tough to score points and we ended up having to block a punt to score and we had a big interception that set up a touchdown pass on a corner route.”
Neither the Blazers nor the Javelinas have qualified for the Division II playoffs since the 2010 season. Last year, both teams won just six games. Tonight, the Blazers hope to secure their spot back in the playoffs with a win.
“The theme this week is win and we are in,” captain Cam Short said. “That is how we have been breaking every huddle down. So, that is what we are looking for.”
Kingsville enters tonight’s game averaging just 23.1 points per game, while Valdosta State enters averaging nearly 42 points per contest. The Javelinas offense averages 237.6 passing yards and 129.4 rushing yards per game.
“They are a pretty good team, they have athletes,” Josey said. “They are not slouches at all. Their record doesn’t indicate how good they are. If you let them hang around, they will make some big things happen.”
Quarterback Nate Poppell has completed 58 percent of his passes (129 of 220) for 1,414 yards with eight touchdowns and just four interceptions.
Running back Anthony Johnson leads the team in rushing with 465 net yards and just two touchdowns.
In the receiving corps is Jonathon Woodson, who is also a member of the school’s track team.
“They are going to pound you and mix in some throws,” Dean said. “They are very athletic at receiver. They’ve got a guy that was the 200-meter champion (Woodson), so he can fly. (Kingsville) is not a very flashy team, there isn’t one thing they do better than something else, but they are very balanced at what they do.”
Defensively, Kingsville is allowing 345.9 yards per game, including 212 through the air and 133 on the ground.
When speaking with media this week, Blazer players and coaches credited Kingsville’s front seven on defense as being one of the best groups of players they’ve seen all year.
“From what I’ve heard, is these guys are the best possible seven,” Short said. “It is going to be a statement for us to the rest of the nation, as to where we stand as an offensive line.”
To beat the talented front seven of Kingsville, the Blazers must be able to run the football and not become one-dimensional.
“We have to run the football,” Dean said. “They are very good against the run and we have to get in there and establish the run. If they force us to be one-dimensional and force us to just throw the football, it is going to be a long night because their secondary is very good. For us, we are going to have to be able to run the football and continue to be production in the red zone.”
Valdosta State will also honor its senior class prior to kickoff tonight.
“It is going to be a pretty emotional day,” Short said. “You don’t let it sink in because you are so focused on the task at hand, but when you sit back and think a minute and then you think about your last (regular season) game in Bazemore-Hyder, it takes a toll.”
Who: Texas A&M-Kingsville (5-4) at Valdosta State (7-2)
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Bazemore-Hyder Stadium
Last time: Valdosta State won 21-12 in 2002 national semifinals
TV: Mediacom channel 230 and ESPN3.com
Radio: 92.1 FM, 92.9 FM, 1150 AM, 96.1 FM