Nov. 22, 2008

Courtesy of Delta State Athletics

CLEVELAND – The fourth-ranked Delta State University football team fought off the eighteenth-ranked Pioneers of Tusculum College, 27-19, Saturday at Parker Field-McCool Stadium to advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II Football Championship. The Statesmen improved to 10-1 on the season, and will face fifth-ranked North Alabama, who defeated Valdosta State 37-10, next Saturday, Nov. 29. The Pioneers ended their campaign with a school record nine wins at 9-4.

“Tusculum came to play today and gave us a great game. We were able to make some adjustments in our ground game in the second half that opened up our offense. I’m proud of the win, but we will have to play even better next week if we want to advance,” said DSU head coach Ron Roberts.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Statesmen finally got on the board, 3-0, after sophomore Tom Santos connected on a 35-yard field goal with 12:48 remaining in the half. The kick capped a nine play 55 yard drive in 2:31.

Tusculum answered at the 10:20 mark with a 10-yard pass from Corey Russell to Calvin Britt. Gareth Rowlands’ extra point attempt sailed wide left, as TC held a 6-3 lead. The scoring drive came on five plays and covered 76 yards in 2:22.

Delta State would answer right back with a 77-yard drive in just under four minutes, as senior quarterback cashed in from 17-yards out to give the Statesmen a 10-6 headed into the locker room.

As the second half began, the Statesmen seemed to have captured a little of the intensity that had carried the green-and-white throughout the season. After holding Tusculum to a three-and-out, Delta State extended the lead to 13-6 on Santos’ 37-yard field goal with 10:44 remaining in the third. The drive covered 65 yards in nine plays with only 3:11 elapsing off the clock.

Senior quarterback and Harlon Hill Trophy finalist Corey Russell found a way to answer once again, as the Speedwell, Tenn., native connected with Ryan Tallent on a 3-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 13-13.

After exchanging punts, the Statesmen defense bristled again, forcing the Pioneers to kick it to the Statesmen with 3:51 remaining in the third. Garrett DeWitt and company rolled 54 yards in just 3:15 to retake the lead, 20-13, on Barnes’ 5-yard run, his second of the day.

With 15 minutes separating the Statesmen from a quarterfinal appearance, coach Ron Roberts’ squad took advantage of another Pioneer stalled drive and march down the field to take a 14 point lead with 9:29 remaining in the game. Sophomore Trevar Deed’s 32-yard rumble ended a beautiful 72 yard drive in 2:57.

DSU looked like it would seal the win late in the fourth quarter after driving to the Tusculum 3-yard line. On fourth and three, Tusculum senior linebacker Justin Scott saved a touchdown by tackling DSU freshman Rafael Mitchell at the goal line to preserve the 27-13 score.

Tusculum would not go down without a fight. With just under two minutes remaining in the game, Russell engineered another scoring drive that covered 99 yards in 3:09. The senior found Tallent on a 20-yard touchdown pass to cut the DSU lead to 27-19. For the second time in the game, Rowland failed to connect on an extra point, as DSU freshman Robert Hogan blocked the attempt from the middle of the pile.

Tusculum executed a great onside kick, but DSU senior safety Aaron Williams recovered the kick. After two TC timeouts, the Statesmen ran out the clock for the 27-19 victory.

Delta State finished with 529 yards of total offense on 92 plays, while Tusculum accumulated 425 on 71 snaps. DSU rushed for 189 yards on 47 carries and passed for 340 yards.

Statesmen junior quarterback Garrett DeWitt passed for 340 yards on 28-of-44 attempts with one interception. Trevar Deed grabbed 10 passes for 133 yards and rushed for 56 yards on 14 carries with a score. Ben Stallings hauled in a season and career-high eight passes for 60 yards, while Tramaine Jenkins had six catches for 90 yards.

The DSU ground and pound game stole the show from the passing attack, as senior Blake Barnes rumbled for 69 yards and two scores. The Baldwyn native rushed 12 times on the day.

Defensively, junior safety Robert Watts led the Statesmen with eight tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one forced fumble, one interception and two pass breakups. Anthony King added six tackles and two TFL. Lardester Hicks-Green and Eric Jackson add five tackles each.

Tusculum ended a seven game streak by the Statesmen defense of not allowing an opponent over 400 total yards. TC rushed for 115 yards on 23 carries and passed for 310 yards as well.

Russell completed 21-of-47 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Pioneers. The senior also rushed 16 times for 110 yards. Ryan Tallent hauled in a game-high 13 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns. Nate Binder and Jarrell NeSmith had three receptions each.

Pioneer safety Antrez McDaniel led all tacklers with 12 stops on the day and 1.5 tackles-for-loss.

The victory puts Delta State back in familiar territory, as the Statesmen will face North Alabama for the second time this season and the third consecutive time in the NCAA playoffs. Last year, UNA ended Delta State’s season with a last second scoring drive in Florence to win the second round game 20-17.
Delta State erased a huge deficit at home earlier this season for a 34-28 victory over the Lions. The Statesmen outgained the Lions 478 to 242, but turnovers kept UNA in the game.

Saturday’s NCAA quarterfinal versus North Alabama will be broadcast on the Statesmen Sports Network starting at 11 a.m. with the SouthGroup Insurance Locker Room Report. Matt Jones, Richard Webster and J.T. Webb will have the call. At this time, the NCAA has not announced whether the game will be web telecast.