Valdosta State defense shines in second round win vs. West Alabama
VALDOSTA, Ga. -- Valdosta State allowed West Alabama just 61 yards of total offense in the second half as the 17th-ranked Blazers defeated the Tigers 49-21 in the second round of the Division II Playoffs Saturday afternoon at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.
With the win, Valdosta State improves to 9-2 on the season and advances to next week's NCAA Quarterfinals against Carson-Newman. West Alabama ends its season at 9-4.
West Alabama got off to a quick start as it scored a pair of touchdowns in the first six minutes of the contest. The Tigers first score came off the opening kickoff, which Malcolm Butler returned 55 yards to the VSU 31 yard line. Seven plays later, Gary Johnston scored on a four-yard run for a 7-0 UWA lead.
West Alabama again gained favorable field condition for its next score. On VSU's second play of the game, Cedric O'Neal fumbled a screen pass that was recovered by Tiger Shontral Ford on the Valdosta State 11. Johnston again put the Tigers in the end zone as he scored from a yard out to put UWA in front by two touchdowns.
After having West Alabama intercept a pass in the end zone, Valdosta State finally got on the board early in the second quarter as it marched 45 yards on six plays. Following the interception, the VSU defense held and forced a punt, which traveled just 34 yards before going out of bounds on the UWA 45. Austin Scott scored for the Blazers as he ran untouched off right guard from 13 yards away. The extra point was missed right to cut the VSU deficit to 14-6.
The Blazer defense forced another punt on West Alabama's next drive to set up the second Valdosta State score. The Blazers needed six plays to march the 54 yards, a drive that culminated when Cayden Cochran found Seantavious Jones from 15 yards out. Another missed extra point cut the UWA lead to 14-12.
West Alabama got back on track on its ensuing drive as it marched 58 yards on eight plays. Johnston used his arm to put UWA in the end zone as he faked a run before hitting running back Dakota Daniel on a screen pass for 23 yards to establish a 21-12 Tiger lead at the intermission.
After both teams were forced to punt on their opening drives of the second half, Valdosta State grabbed the momentum with two touchdowns in a 21-second span. Scott got the first touchdown when he capped off a 10-play, 87-yard drive with a four-yard scoring run. Cochran hooked up with Regginald Lewis on the two-point conversion try to close Valdosta State to within 21-20.
On the first play from scrimmage on the ensuing UWA drive, Lawrence Virgil hit Tiger running back George Michael Rowe in the back field and stripped the ball loose. Ryan Smith scooped up the ball and returned it 13 yards to the UWA 10 yard line, where Cedric O'Neal scored on the very next play of the game. Lewis and Cochran against hooked up for a two-point conversion to give the Blazers a 28-21 edge.
After a West Alabama punt that was returned to the Tiger 34, O'Neal again scored, this time from nine yards out, on the next VSU possession to cap off a six-play drive to push the Valdosta State advantage to 14 points before adding his third touchdown of the game early in the fourth quarter. Quin Roberson set up the score with a 60-yard punt return that gave the Blazers the ball on the UWA 5. After Cochran gained three yards on a rush, O'Neal finished off the play with a run up the middle to push the Valdosta State lead to 42-21.
Scott closed out the scoring with a 15-yard touchdown run with 4:35 to play in the game.
The Valdosta State defense held the West Alabama offense to five punts, a turnover and two turnover on downs while limiting the Tigers to just one third down conversion, on eight chances, during the second half of play. Meanwhile, the Valdosta State offense rolled up 242 yards of offense in the frame.
Scott finished with 133 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 20 carries while O'Neal carried the ball 12 times for 50 yards and three scores. Cochran completed 23-of-33 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown. VSU finished with 458 total yards of offense in the game, including 218 rushing and 240 through the air.
Jeremy Grable tallied a game-high 11 tackles for Valdosta State while Virgil finished with a career-high seven tackles, including five tackles for loss and three sacks.
Rowe rushed for 54 yards on 15 carries while Johnston gained 27 yards on 18 carries and passed for 73 yards while completing 6-of-11 passes. Ben Brooks and Deon Lacey each had seven tackles to lead the West Alabama defense. West Alabama had 187 total yards of offense, including 69 rushing and 118 through the air.
Valdosta State, the Super Region 2 No. 1 seed, and Carson-Newman, the Region's No. 2 seed, will play next Saturday at Noon ET.