VALDOSTA—For the second straight season, Bazemore-Hyder Stadium saw the crowning of the Gulf South Conference champions.
Top-ranked Valdosta State (9-0, 7-0 GSC) downed No. 20 West Florida (7-2, 6-1 GSC) 26-21 to claim a share of the conference championship and can win it outright with a victory against West Georgia next week.
After shutting out the Argos in the first half, the Blazers withstood an aggressive second half from West Florida to give them their first conference loss of the season.
The Argos came out of the half trailing by 20 but swung momentum to their side with a five minute touchdown drive to start the third quarter. They followed that hot start by forcing VSU running back Jamar Tompkins to fumble and scored again to make it a six-point game as time wound down in the third.
The Argos looked like a team with new life as they chomped away yardage on offense and clustered the Blazers on defense.
But an 11 play, 67-yard drive that ended with a Seth McGill rushing touchdown, put the game out of reach.
The Black Swarm held the Argos to a lone touchdown in the fourth and were able to celebrate the 24th consecutive win when the clock hit triple zeros.
“It means a lot because of the pressure we’ve had to block out,” head coach Gary Goff said about the team’s second consecutive conference championship. “Very proud of these young men blocking out all that white noise. For them to continue to fight through that adversity tonight. In the first half everything went our way. The second half not a whole lot went our way. I thought the kids played extremely hard and that’s what it’s all about.”
What was pegged as a heavyweight fight by Goff earlier in the week didn’t start out as such.
The Blazers held West Florida to a season-low 62 yards in the first half and shut them out for the first time this season. They were held under 10 minutes of possession time while VSU eclipsed 20 minutes in the opening half.
The Argos were taking blows and found themselves on the mat with the referee content on counting them out.
But they didn’t stay down.
They displayed the energy and fight of a team with nothing to lose—and a lot that could be gained.
In the end, the Blazers needed all aspects of the game to overcome the “adversity” that Goff spoke about.
They needed the strong start by the offense, scoring on four of the five first half possessions.
They needed the defense, overcoming the fight the Argos showed in the second half and they needed special teams to not have any errors.
“Proud,” safety Cory Roberts said on his team’s performance. “We made the adjustments that needed to be made. We got the stops, all praise and glory goes to the most high. It was a fantastic game … everybody is stepping up and leading.”
The game marked senior night for the reigning national champions. They leaned heavily on the senior leadership when the game got tight and those seniors responded by taking the Blazers to victory.
It’s just another tool that the team has in its tool box.
“All the hard work we put in over the summer, through the winter workouts—it feels good to have it actually pay off,” senior lineman Adonis Sealey said after the game. “I always wanted to go out a champion. I’ve been preaching that to all my young guys since the beginning of the season. Just think about our seniors in every game we play and put it all on the line for us.”
With a conference record 24 victories at their back and a piece of the conference title in their pocket, the Blazers prepare for a trip to Carrollton.
Awaiting them will be a West Georgia Wolves team that is playing for pride.
VSU is playing for an outright championship and playoff positioning.
It’s one of the hottest rivalries in the conference and it will be the regular season finale.
“We’ve got to have the same focus when we’re practicing for West Florida, if we practice for Mississippi State, Albany State or whoever we play,” Roberts said on VSU’s final game. We’ve got to have the same focus. We’ve got to lock in. We have to do our job and that’s what it comes down to.”