Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

December 3, 2012

Playing in the cold

Blazers preparing for semifinal game in freezing temperatures

VALDOSTA — When longtime NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens signed a long-term contract with the Dallas Cowboys a few years ago, he told media members, “Get your popcorn ready.”

Well, the Valdosta State football team might not want to get its popcorn ready, but the Blazers will definitely want to get their cold-weather clothing ready for this upcoming weekend.

This Friday, the Blazers (10-2) will make a two-hour flight north to Mankato, Minn. — or wherever the plane will land — and then they will bus over to Mankato, where the temperature will be in the 20s or 30s.

Weather.com is projecting the high temperature on Saturday to be 33 degrees, with a low of 24, when the Blazers visit the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks (12-0) in the NCAA Division II national semifinals. Oh yes, there is also a 10 percent chance of snow for Saturday, too.

Saturday’s projected high temperature is 26 degrees colder than Valdosta State’s coolest game this season, which was two weeks ago in the second round of the Division II playoffs against West Alabama, when the temperature at kickoff was 59 degrees.  

“We are fired up because we have another week to play,” Valdosta State head coach David Dean said.

With the majority of Valdosta State’s football team being from the state of Georgia — including 23 of its 25 starters — not many have ever played a game in brutally cold, snowy conditions.

“There isn’t too much snow down here,” linebacker Chris Pope, a native of Jackson, Ga., said during Saturday’s postgame press conference, just minutes after he recorded 21 tackles in the Blazers’ 48-26 win over Carson-Newman in the national quarterfinals.

But in order to win a national championship, the Blazers will have to fight the elements up north, something they’ve done in the past.

During Valdosta State’s 2007 national championship season, the Blazers visited California (Pa.) in the national semifinals and won 28-24, despite a game-time temperature of 30 degrees.

“We were very timid when we got off the plane,” Dean remembered. “We were descending through the clouds and you could hear a rumbling through the plane, and the pilot came across and said, ‘Yes, that is snow.’

“Our guys got off the plane and didn’t know how to walk in the snow, and by the time we got to the bus, they were unloading on each other with snowball fights. So once we got there, it didn’t bother us.”

One of the biggest challenges of playing in cold weather is catching the football. That might not be an issue if the Blazers are able to run the football like they’ve been able to do this entire season.

Valdosta State is averaging 219.8 yards rushing per game, led by freshman running back Cedric O’Neal, who is averaging just over 95 yards rushing a game and finished with a career-high 194 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday’s win over the Eagles.

“Once you get out there and get to playing, I think all that goes away, because you get your adrenaline going, you get your body heat going,” Dean said. “The big thing now, there is a great commercial that comes out right now is, ‘If you’re playing in the cold, you’re playing for something.’ And that is a very true statement.”

Certainly, the Blazers are playing for something. A victory Saturday over MSU-Mankato will put the Blazers back into the national championship game in Florence, Ala., where they would face either Winston-Salem State or West Texas A&M.

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