greg.mcilvain@gaflnews.com



ALBANY -- Five times last season they came oh so close.

Five times Valdosta State's Black Swam defense was a play away from a shutout. Three times the Blazers took a shutout into the fourth quarter.

But it was not to be. Fort Valley scored with 11:34 left. VSU kept Henderson State out of the end zone, but the Reddies kicked a field goal with 8:48 left. West Georgia scored a touchdown with 5:13 left.

And after an early safety, West Alabama scored its lone touchdown with 7:19 left.

So when the Blazers looked up at the scoreboard after Saturday night's win at Hugh Mills Stadium, there was a zero for the home team's score. Valdosta State 26, Albany State 0.

"I'm proud for the kids. That's the main goal we came into the game with," said first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Shirley, part of a completely new defensive coaching staff. "No matter how many mistakes we made, or how many good things we did, they didn't score. Now we can build on that."

"Those guys deserved it," said head coach Chris Hatcher. "That's the strength of our team right now as we come together on offense."

VSU limited Albany State to 165 total yards on 58 plays. Junior Marlin Adams, getting his first start at weak-side linebacker, led the Blazers with 10 tackles (two for loss) and two quarterback sacks. Strong-side linebacker Tabious Carter added six tackles, rover Ced Dickerson five.

Five times the Swarm forced a three-play-and-out situation, something Shirley stresses. Three times Albany State got into the red zone (inside the 20-yard-line) and failed to score.

It happened twice in the first quarter, when the game was scoreless. A bad center snap turned into a loss of 23 yards and two plays later Albany punted.

On the next drive, Albany misfired on three passes after reaching the VSU 19. After an illegal procedure penalty, Micaiah Lucas' 40-yard field goal was wide right.

In the third quarter, Albany again got to the VSU 19. But an ineligible receiver penalty, followed by sacks by backup middle linebacker Leon Gray and Adams pushed the ball to the VSU 43. Albany punted and barely got past midfield in the fourth quarter as VSU's backup players finished the game.

One thing Shirley knows he wants his team to improve upon -- causing turnovers. VSU forced none Saturday night, though Albany punted 10 times for a lackluster 27.6-yard average.

"We do this with no turnovers, so if we can get two or three turnovers we can do some special things," Shirley said.

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It wasn't a record-setting night for penalties, but it was ugly. A total of 31 penalties were accepted against both teams for 324 yards. VSU had 15 penalties (for 159 yards), Albany 16 (for 165 yards)

The Gulf South Conference-assigned crew called VSU's offense for five holding penalties and an illegal block. While the Blazers were called for two personal fouls and three face masks (one flagrant), Albany State was called for five personal fouls.

"We played an outstanding game other than the first-game mistakes," Hatcher said. "We had too many penalties that were not hustling penalties."

Included were three offsides penalties, including a mismarked 10-yarder on the offense after the chain crew had moved too quickly. VSU recovered for a first down when Barrett Wilkes hit on passes of 16 and 12 yards to Nekeyma Wright for a first down.



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