Samuel D. Logan
The Associated Press
The reigning Division II National Champion Valdosta State Blazer team took the field on Saturday with one goal. The Blazer’s sought out to begin the season with a win, and that is what they did.
The Blazers took on the Fort Valley State Wildcats and came away with a 36 to 21 victory.
“We left a lot of plays on the field. We had some key penalties, including two touchdowns called back by holding calls, but overall our kids played well,” said Blazer Head Coach David Dean.
The Blazer offense was very efficient in the first half, running 14 times for 114 yards.
Running backs Cedric O’Neal and Austin Scott had the bulk of the carries, gaining 84 and 38 yards respectively.
“First half we did well, but second half we kind of let up on them a little.
The offensive line helped out a lot. Without them the game would not have been how it was,” said running back Cedric O’ Neal.
Cayden Cochran was 12 for 18 for 141 in the first half, throwing two touchdowns and one interception.
Cayden Cochran, who threw 3 touchdown passes and ran one in for another touchdown score on the day, felt his performance could have been better.
“I didn’t play good enough at all. Bad to be honest with you,” said Cochran.
Receivers Regginald Lewis and Willie Downs both came away with touchdowns in the game, Downs actually recorded 2 touchdowns for the day.
“It feels good to come away with the W. I could do better, I will go look at the film and work on
some things. Being Offensive MVP is honorable. I came out and did my part and hope to earn more respect everywhere we go,” said receiver Willie Downs.
“It feels great to have a receiver like Willie. He’s a big target and I have all the faith in him in the world,” said Cochran.
“Its great having Willie. We knew that when he stepped on the field in practice he would be a factor. The way he practices and the way he plays; he proved us correct today and we are proud of his play today,” said Coach Dean.
The Blazer offense slowed down some in the second half however,
only scoring one more time on a long touchdown catch by receiver Willie Downs.
Defensively, the Blazers made a lot of big stops in the first half, but allowed the Wildcats to get back in the game in the second half.
The Blazers gave away 21 points to the Wildcats in the game.
“We gave up a few big plays. And we have to correct that. But we made some good plays in the backfield. We have to go back to work on tackling and fixing mistakes we made today,” said Coach Dean.
“It was a little disappointing giving up that amount of points to them (FVSU). Not that they are a bad team, but because we have a great defense. We do still a lot of room
to grow,” said Lance Holder.
Chris Pope and Jeremy Grable make big tackles in the game.
Safety Lance Holder came away with the only Blazer interception on defense, and also had a number of tackles, one for a loss.
“It’s a great thing. My teammates, linemen getting pressure, helps me get interceptions like that. The game overall was good. We had missed tackles and the game as a whole, we could do better. But all in all, the game was good and we will get better,” said safety Lance Holder.
Fort Valley was the first team to put points on the board with a Eugene Smith touchdown run from the VSU 6 yard line. On the point after attempt however, the kick was blocked VSU’s Jeremy Grable and returned all the way back for a defensive 2 points.
On the ensuing kickoff, Regginald Lewis for the Blazers ran a 60-yard return, setting up the Blazers with good field position.
The drive continued to be advanced by receiver Regginald Lewis catching two long passes, one for a first down and one for a 16-yard touchdown. The Blazers made the score VSU 9, FVSU 6.
After a couple of drives ended in punts from both teams, the Blazers scored once more, after senior running back Cedric O’ Neal ran away from the whole FVSU defense,
scoring a touchdown on a 69 yard run.
With the score VSU 15 to FVSU 6, the Blazers came out on a drive riddled with mistakes. Quarterback Cayden Cochran found receiver Regginald Lewis for a completion but Lewis fumbled the ball. Recovered by the Blazers, Cochran stepped back to pass on second down and was intercepted by the Wildcat secondary.
During the second quarter, the Wildcats had the ball on the VSU 1 yard line, but were unable to convert on 4th down. On the next play for the Blazers, Cedric O’ Neal was tackled in the end zone for a safety, making the score VSU 15, FVSU 8.
The Blazer defense continued to stop the FVSU offense, forcing yet another punt on their next drive.
After a 3 minute drive, the Blazers added more points on the board with a Cayden Cochran touchdown run, after running a read option play similar to NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
With the score VSU 22 to FVSU 8, the Blazer defense stood tall once again, allowing the Blazers to get the ball once more on offense. On the FVSU 42, Cayden Cochran took the snap and completed a pass to new Blazer receiver and the games offensive MVP, Willie Downs for a 42 yard touchdown. A stiff arm that cleared his way all the way to the end zone helped out Downs’ touchdown.
VSU went into the half with a 29 to 8 lead over the Wildcats.
This week in practice, the Blazers will focus on fixing mistakes that could have cost them this game.
“Correcting the mistakes we made, those are things that could hurt you on the road. We are going to be looking to improve from game 1 to game 2 in practice,” said Coach Dean.
The Blazers next game is September 21 when they open up their home schedule against Shorter College at 7p.m. at Bazemore-Hyder stadium.