VALDOSTA -- The Gulf South Conference football season is only at the halfway point, but it's quite possible that the championship game has already been played.
At the very least, Valdosta State fans saw a game of championship caliber as the Blazers moved a step closer to the GSC title by downing rival Delta State, 51-48 Saturday afternoon at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.
The Blazers (4-1 overall, 4-0 GSC) pushed the Statesmen (3-2, 3-1) out of the way with persistence, including a defensive stand that denied Delta State a winning score as time expired.
"This puts us in great position for the conference championship," VSU head coach Chris Hatcher said, "even though it's midway through the season. We played 60 minutes for the first time in a long time and we made the last play when we needed to."
After swapping the lead eight times, VSU took the final edge with 2:06 left to play as quarterback Fabian Walker fooled the Delta State defense with a draw and scampered five yards into the end zone.
But the Statesmen offense had another punch left on their ensuing drive and pieced together nine plays to move to VSU's 31-yard line with just over 20 seconds remaining.
Delta State quarterback Scott Eyster then threw a 30-yard pass to wideout Ellis Debrow, who was pushed out at the one by VSU cornerback Sam Reynolds.
"I don't think that he looked to see where he was at on the field," Reynolds said. "He was just running with his head up. It was a great throw and catch. If he would have stuck the football out, he probably would have scored."
On the next play, Statesmen running back Steven Davis took the handout and was denied in an attempt to leap over the pile by VSU's Tracy Flounoy and Tim Thompson.
With 15 seconds left, Delta State called its final timeout. On second and goal, the Statesmen tried to go over the middle again, this time with Jason Snell.
By the time the pile was picked apart to determine if Snell had broken the plane -- he was stopped short by defensive end Terel Toomer -- time had expired and the Blazers were flooding the field in celebration.
"We always expect to win, no matter what the situation is," Hatcher said. "There was never any panic from our team. We bowed up there at the end, and I'm real proud of our defense for doing that."
Although both defenses are among the conference's best, quick-strike offense stole most of the show. Only one scoring drive went more than 10 plays and the teams combined for 1,192 yards of total offense.
"I knew it would be a high-scoring game," VSU running back Vincent Brown said, "But I didn't know it was going to be that high. I don't know what it was. I guess both defenses were tired."
Brown ran for two scores, while Tyran Robinson rushed for 71 yards and a touchdown. Walker put together his biggest passing numbers this season, completing 19 of 24 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns, and also finished with 70 yards on 10 carries.
Delta State's Eyster threw for four touchdowns and 483 yards, while Chris Parks caught seven passes for 157 yards and Debrow had five receptions for 131 yards. Radale Pearson picked up 101 rushing yards on 21 carries.
VSU kicker Will Rhody remained perfect on the season, connecting on two field goal attempts from 42 yards and another from 37, as well as nailing six extra points.
Of course, the Blazers have five more conference games to play on the road to a title. But now the destination should be easier to see.
"This win right here lets us know we're sitting in the driver's seat of the whole conference," Reynolds said. "We know we've got to maintain the hard work, but it gives us a lot of confidence. That goes a long way in a football and if you maintain that, you'll keep winning."
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