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Week off helps Blazers get refocused

Edward Hooper
Sports Writer
ephooper@valdosta.edu

For the first time since 2004, the Valdosta State Blazers head into their second game of the season with an 0-1 record as they host Southern Arkansas (0-1 overall, 0-1 GSC) on Saturday night at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.
 With the game on Saturday night, the Blazers kick off their quest for their first Gulf South Conference championship since the 2004 season when the Blazers also went on to win the Division II National Championship.
 With the loss on August 29th to Newberry, the Blazers are on a two game losing streak which dates back to last year when they were knocked out of the playoffs by North Alabama 37-10. This is the first two-game losing streak for the Blazers since the 2005 season. However, the Blazers are 3-1 when coming off a loss under the direction of head coach David Dean.
 The Blazers lead the all-time series against Southern Arkansas by a record of 10-3, which includes a 38-16 win last year in Magnolia, Arkansas. However, the Muleriders of Southern Arkansas have a new coaching staff this season and are looking to avenge a 41-9 week one loss to third ranked North Alabama.
 The Blazers are confident about the game on Saturday night thanks to a bye week over the Labor Day holiday weekend, which allowed the Blazers extra time to fix their mistakes from the Newberry loss and to get completely healthy from the flu virus which had been going around the team for close to two weeks.
 “The week off was huge for us,” said VSU defensive lineman and Captain Demario Jones. “We got to go back to the basics of many things like tackling.”
 Blazer fans should expect better defense this week against Southern Arkansas, according to Jones. The Blazers have been able to fix the problems they experienced against the “spread” style offense of Newberry, and have been able to apply that knowledge in their game preparations for Southern Arkansas due to the similarities in the offensive styles of Newberry and Southern Arkansas. However, defensive backs Coach Seth Wallace credits the receiving core of Southern Arkansas and says they have a lot of talent.
 The Blazers head into Saturdays game ranked 18th in the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Division II poll. This is the 123th consecutive week the Blazers have been ranked inside the poll which is the longest active streak in division II football. The 18th ranking is two better than the Blazers were ranked last week after they fell eight spots after their season opening loss to Newberry.
 Valdosta State Senior Wide Receiver Cedric Jones heads into Saturday night’s game looking to move up in the VSU record books. Jones only needs six more receptions to become VSU’s second all-time leading receiver in receptions and only 21 more yards to move into third on VSU’s all-time receiving yards list.
 The Blazers expect the return of quarterback Kellen Lewis this week as they take the field against the Muleriders. Lewis was knocked out in the third quarter of the week-one loss to Newberry. Lewis went 9 for 19 for 148 yards with one touchdown and one interception before he was knocked out of the game with an upper arm injury. Jones was then replaced by Russ Callaway, who threw for three interceptions as the Blazers fell short.

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