Nobody likes to lose to a rival. That is especially true when it is in the form of a 62-27 beatdown on national television.
That was the case last season, when the Valdosta State Blazers faced the then No. 1 ranked North Alabama Lions.
The 2009 loss, in which UNA racked up 518 yards of offense, was the sixth worst loss in VSU’s 27-year football history.
However tonight, the 19th ranked Blazers have a chance to redeem the ‘09 loss, when they take the field in Florence, Ala. to take on the now third ranked UNA Lions.
“Our guys know they are underdogs,” VSU Head Coach David Dean said. “They know that number three is a whole lot higher than whatever we are. You don’t have to say much when you tell these guys that they’re playing North Alabama.”
The task of taking down the high and mighty Lions is easier said than done. After all, UNA has won all six of their games this season by a combined 169 points, which includes a 17-10 win over the West Georgia Wolves this past Saturday.
“We know it, nobody is giving us a chance to play in this game,” Dean said. “Nobody thinks that we can go up there and win and if we were to do that, I think we would surprise a lot of people.”
As for VSU, the game tonight marks their first game in 11 days, after they enjoyed, what Dean called, a much needed bye week this past weekend.
“Well it’s good having an off week and it came at a great time because we needed to heal up,” Dean said. “If we would have had to play last Saturday, we’d probably have four or five guys that weren’t going to be able to play. So it was a good thing it came.”
Although Dean is pleased with the extra time off, UNA Head Coach Terry Bowden told the local Florence, Ala. newspaper that next season he would not prefer to play Valdosta State, if VSU has extra time to prepare for the game like they do this season.
schedule a Thursday game against Valdosta (State) if they had 11 days to prepare and we had four,” Bowden told the Times Daily newspaper. “You don’t really worry about a team having a week off before you play them if you have seven days to prepare, but with just four (days) you think about it because your practice routine is changed so dramatically.”
Last season, it was North Alabama who received a longer week before the matchup with VSU, as the Blazers had just four days to prepare for the contest while UNA received seven days.
Offensively quarterback Lee Chapple leads the UNA attack. The Georgia Southern University transfer has thrown for more than 1,600 yards on the season and has just four interceptions compared to 13 passing touchdowns.
“Well he is a lot like the quarterback at Ouachita (Baptist),” Dean said. “He gets rid of the football quickly and he hasn’t had a lot of pressure on him. He can stand back there, when he doesn’t get rid of the ball quickly, and look over the field and survey and throw. The thing for us is we have to get a good pass rush on him.”
Through UNA’s first six games, it is clear that Chapple shares the football, as the Lions have seven receivers who have recorded 10 or more receptions this season.�
“I wouldn’t say we have to have a heroic effort (to stop them), we have to just go out there and do what we’ve been coached to do,” VSU senior linebacker Larry Dean said.
As for VSU, the daunting task will be the ability to move the football. Junior Austen Roberts will make his first collegiate start at quarterback as redshirt freshman Brett Whitmire is still recovering from a dislocated left shoulder.
“I’m excited, I feel like everyone is, I feel like we have a shot” Roberts said. “You know (Brett) suffered an injury and you just have to be ready for your time.”
Although Whitmire will not start, Dean said he will serve as the back-up in case Roberts would go down with an injury.
Tonight’s game is bigger than just a revenge game from last season for VSU as a win would place them in the thick of the playoff hunt along with the hunt for the Gulf South Conference championship.
“If we do go up there and upset (North Alabama), people are going to say ‘well it was a fluke game’ and we‘ll except that. It is a win.”
Tonight’s game will be televised and it can be seen on MediaCom channel 77. Read about the game online at VSUspectator.com.