VALDOSTA -- And then there was one.
Through five weeks of Gulf South Conference football play, there is now just one chased team -- and five chasers.
Top-ranked Valdosta State finished Saturday as the lone unbeaten team in the conference. VSU did its part with a 51-17 win over Harding before a Homecoming crowd of 8,072 at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.
Then when Arkansas-Monticello took a 20-19 win at former unbeaten Arkansas Tech later in the day, it left five schools at 4-1. With four weeks left, the chase is on.
"We've still got some work to do. We're not where we need to be," said VSU head coach Chris Hatcher. "But we're getting a little bit closer."
The Blazers (5-0 in Gulf South, 7-0 overall) recorded a season-high 41 first-half points then coasted to its seventh win. Aaron Jenkins had 255 total yards, including his third 100-yard rushing game (161 yards on 15 carries).
Quarterback Dusty Bonner added an 18-for-24, 263-yard passing day with four touchdowns.
"People are having to make a decision whether to pack it in or cover the wide outs," said Hatcher. "That's opening up the game for Aaron, and the offensive linemen are doing a tremendous job."
Harding (1-4, 1-5) trailed only 14-10 with 9:43 left in the second quarter, before VSU scored four of the next five touchdowns -- including a blocked punt recovered in the end zone by Shaunta Dismuke and a "Hail Mary" pass into the end zone caught by C.J. Lofton as the quarter ended.
"We started off slow today, but we got into a groove and played our ball," said Jenkins.
The game was a case of who took advantage of the other team's mistakes.
"Our defense hung in there and kept it close. Then when our offense needed to turn it on it did," said Hatcher. "We did just enough today to get a win. We can't do that much more."
Early on, Harding almost lost the football on a punt and kickoff return. With the game scoreless, Harding was driving downfield when a fumble was picked up by Todd Ragle and returned to the Valdosta 32.
Bonner and Jenkins combined on a 42-yard pass and Jenkins ran 26 yards for the first touchdown. Reid Bethea's kick made it 7-0 with 6:51 left in the first quarter.
After a punt, Bonner completed six straight passes, the last to Carlos Johnson on a 3-yard toss. It was 14-0 with 2:10 left.
Then came a pair of VSU mistakes. First was Bonner's pass picked off by Harding's Lee Polk and returned to the VSU 15. But the drive ended with Coy Nance's 30-yard field goal.
Then when Jenkins fumbled on the first offensive play after the score, it took Harding five plays for quarterback Freddie Langston to find a wide-open Jason Sneed. The 16-yard pass and Nance's kick made it 14-10 VSU with 9:43 left in the second quarter. That's as close as it would get.
On the next drive, Jenkins ran four straight times down to the Harding 7. On third down, Bonner scrambled and rolled right, finding a leaping Lofton in the end zone. Bethea's kick made it 21-10 with 7:37 left.
Lofton wasn't done. First he blocked a Nance punt which was recovered at the Harding 13. In one play, Bonner through to Jenkins for the touchdown. Bethea missed the extra point, and it was 27-10 with 5:35 left.
On the next punt, Shaunta Dismuke broke through and blocked it. The ball bounced in the air in the end zone, where Dismuke caught it for a touchdown. Bethea's kick made it 34-10 with 4:01 left.
Bonner's second interception of the half was returned by Errick Wilson 67 yards to the VSU 12, where Bonner and Lofton made the tackle.
It delayed the touchdown by a play. Backup quarterback Matt Underwood threw to Sneed for the score with 1:07 before halftime.
VSU wasn't done, then it was done, then it wasn't done. Bonner's first pass should have been intercepted, but was dropped. The Blazers then went to a two-back offense and ran two plays.
But on the second play, Jenkins went 20 yards to the Harding 43. VSU called time out with seven seconds left, and put its "Big Ben" formation in.
Bonner threw into the end zone. The ball was tipped and Lofton caught it in the end zone
as time expired. The Homecoming celebration ended with a 41-17 VSU lead.
The Blazers scored their last touchdown on the first drive of the third quarter. In four plays, including three Jenkins' runs, VSU reached the end zone. Jenkins' scoring run was from 32 yards, with Bonner laying the final block downfield.
After Nance bounced a 50-yard field goal attempt off the right upright, VSU came back and settled for Bethea's 22-yard field goal.
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