The Valdosta Daily Times
The West Georgia Wolves never had a chance.
The Valdosta State Blazers scored on six of their 14 offensive possessions, forced seven punts and caused two interceptions to roll to a 42-7 win over in-state rival West Georgia on Saturday afternoon and reclaim the Peach Basket.
“It is an ugly trophy, but it is a beautiful trophy,” Valdosta State head coach David Dean said. “It looks good up there on our trophy shelf, and we know we have it for another year.”
Saturday’s victory was the first Gulf South Conference win for the VSU football team in 359 days. The Blazers’ win also avenged a final-minute loss to the Wolves last season.
“I can’t be any more proud of a group of guys than I am of these guys,” Dean said. “They came out here with redemption on their mind and they wanted to play a good ball game, and I think we did.”
Freshman running back Austin Scott finished with a career-high 133 rushing yards and a career-best three rushing touchdowns, while quarterback Cayden Cochran tossed two first half touchdown passes to lead the Blazer offense to 507 total yards and six touchdowns on the afternoon.
“It is good,” Scott said. “I just give all the credit to the O-line. Without them I can’t do anything. … Once we get flowing, we are hard to stop.”
Defensively, safety Lance Holder, who sat out last week’s game with an injury, finished with two interceptions, one that led to a second quarter Blazer touchdown. The VSU defense was able to limit the second-highest scoring offense in the Gulf South Conference to just 217 total yards and seven punts, including five straight to begin the game.
“It feels good,” Holder said. “I just finish the plays. It all starts with the D-line, the linebackers to make plays and I just finish them.”
The majority of the Wolves’ offensive production came on their first and last possessions. On their opening drive, the Wolves drove 48 yards on 13 plays, but were forced to a punt. On their final drive, the Wolves drove 67 yards for their only touchdown of the game.
The Wolves managed just 126 yards on their 10 other offensive possessions in the game.
“I think we got off blocks, that’s for one, and we gang tackled,” Dean said. “If you look, there were a lot of times when we had a lot of guys around the football. I think we were making better reads and when the ball was in the air, we were going after it. That is the best I’ve seen our defense play in a long time.”
The Blazers failed to score on their first possession of the game, despite recovering an onside kick to begin the game. After a pair of punts, the Blazers found a groove and scored on their third offensive possession when Cochran connected with Ford for a 6-yard touchdown pass to cap off an 11-play drive and take a 7-0 lead.
After a Cochran interception and a punt ended their next two drives, the Blazers scored on their next four offensive possessions to build an impressive 35-0 lead.
“It was awesome,” Cochran said. “I’d just like to see us get started a little bit earlier. We got that onside kick, which is what we wanted to do all week, and we didn’t get points off that. But yeah, I am so happy with how we played.
“We didn’t play as well as we could have last year, and we wanted to come out here and show who the best (GSC) team in the state of Georgia is.”
Cochran found Seantavious Jones on a 6-yard pass in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown to give the Blazers a 14-0 lead. Jones made the catch over former Lowndes Viking and current Wolves defensive back Kelly Dawsey.
After Holder recorded the first of his two interceptions, the Blazers took a 21-0 lead on a 27-yard run by Scott, which came with just over a minute remaining in the first half.
In the second half, the Blazers scored on their first two possessions, both rushing touchdowns by Scott.
Valdosta State opened the half with an 8-play, 69-yard drive capped of by a 2-yard run by Scott. During the drive, Cochran was hit while throwing across the middle to Ford and immediately ran to the sideline where VSU medical personnel checked his hand. He missed a few plays and returned to hand Scott the ball on a 2-yard TD run.
On West Georgia’s following possession, Holder hauled in his second interception to set up VSU with its fifth touchdown of the game. This time, Scott slashed into the end zone from 6 yards out to give the Blazers a 35-0 lead.
“It is very big,” said Holder of the defensive pressure. “We had the ultimate goal of winning the championship at the beginning of the season and that is not out of the question. This is just another step in us proving we can do it.”
Graham Craig capped VSU’s scoring with a 10-yard touchdown connection with Quin Roberson with 11:57 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Blazers made two mistakes all day, according to Dean. The first came when they couldn’t take advantage of the onside kick and the second when West Georgia scored on their final offensive drive of the game, ruining the Blazers’ shutout with just over two minutes remaining.
“There’s two disappointing things in the ball game,” Dean said. “We got the onside kick to begin the game, (and) we couldn’t get a first down and get points on the board. And then the last drive, our defense gave up some points. I was really hoping they would get a shutout.”
Valdosta State visits North Alabama next Saturday in Florence, Ala. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Eastern time.