VALDOSTA –– In a rematch of the Gulf South Conference championship three weeks prior, West Florida played spoiler for Valdosta State football’s quest to repeat as national champions on Saturday.
Anthony Johnson’s go-ahead touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line downed the Blazers 38-35 with mere seconds left on the clock.
With a chance for a potential game-winning drive on the ensuing possession, time expired on VSU’s attempt to get into position for a final play.
Rogan Wells completed a pass to Brian Saunds as he fell out of bounds with what appeared to be 1.5 seconds remaining on the game clock. However, the clock inexplicably ticked away and the officials waved their arms in the air, signaling the end of the game.
A team that had won its last 25 contests tasted defeat. And it was bitter.
“I don’t know,” head coach Gary Goff said of the last play. “The official said the game was over but I clearly thought Buzz caught the ball and was out of bounds with at least a second or two the clock. We don’t have replay at this level and if they want to end the game, they get to end the game.”
The sequence that brought the Blazers to that point was one filled with twist and turns. VSU trailed 17-7 at halftime which was a stark contrast to the GSC championship contest where they led the Argos by 20 coming out of the half.
At the start of the third quarter, West Florida forced a fumble that set them up in VSU territory and scored a touchdown to make it a 24-7 game.
After a 12-yard touchdown run by Seth McGill, the Argos struck once more to make it a 31-14 game.
That’s when junior wide receiver Lio’undre Gallimore and quarterback Rogan Wells decided to put the game’s fate into their own hands.
Wells found Gallimore streaking down the field for a 64-yard touchdown reception and made the score 31-21. Gallimore finished with 162 yards on seven receptions and two touchdowns.
He wore his heart on his sleeve for the entire contest and even picked up an unsportsmanlike penalty in the first quarter.
“It feels like we play better as a unit,” Gallimore said about his big day. “We’ve got playmakers on the team. They just wanted to win. They wanted it more than us. That’s all I can really say.”
Touchdowns by McGill and Jamar Tompkins would give VSU a 35-31 lead with 2:12 remaining in the game.
After trailing for a majority of the game, the Blazers roared back with 21 fourth quarter points to take a lead.
But it wasn’t enough.
Redshirt freshman Austin Reed became surgical for the Argos.
He delivered UWF from a fourth-and-eight—finding his favorite target, Tate Lehtio for a season-saving first down. Reed and Lehtio helped drive the Argos down the field with five completions and 62 yards between the pair on UWF’s final drive.
Lehtio got the Argos into fourth and one at the goal line with 10 seconds remaining on the clock.
From there, it was on running back Anthony Johnson to power his way into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 6.9 seconds left in regulation.
Reed, the GSC’s Offensive Freshman of the Year, completed 25-of-37 passes for 298 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Lehtio caught 14 passes from Reed for 140 yards in the win. The Argos had 28 first downs and 434 yards of total offense on 80 plays Saturday.
Defensively, the Argos were led by Henry Montgomery and Chanler Ferguson. Montgomery had a game-high 12 tackles while Ferguson added seven of his own, with two for losses.
As for the Blazers, they finished with 511 yards of total offense. Wells went 23-of-32 for 335 yards with two touchdowns while Gallimore had seven catches for 162 yards with two scores. The Blazers rushed for 166 yards on 30 carries in the loss –– Thompkins and McGill combined for 25 carries for 151 yards and three touchdowns.
Cory Roberts, who left the game briefly with a shoulder injury, led the Blazers with 10 tackles. Stephon Williams added nine tackles while Mondrell Jefferson tallied eight with an interception.
The final drive from the Argos scratched what would’ve become lore in Valdosta. A 28-point second half comeback to advance in the playoffs would’ve been written in the history books.
But instead, all that is left is heartbreak.
Valdosta State: Finishes its season with a 10-1 record and a Gulf South Conference championship.
West Florida: Will face No. 2 seed Lenoir-Rhyne next weekend in the quarterfinals of the Division II playoffs.