The No. 12 ranked Blazers welcomed No. 22 West Alabama into Bazemore-Hyder Stadium for a highly anticipated conference game on Homecoming weekend. The game did not disappoint, as VSU came back to win a 22-21 thriller.
West Alabama held a 21-16 lead with 5:25 remaining until junior cornerback Matt Pierce took an interception 85 yards for a touchdown to give the Blazers a one point lead. It was Pierce’s second interception and score on the day and it sealed the win for VSU.
“The great thing about our defense is they don’t worry about the numbers that they give up,” Dean said. “They only worry about the points and making the plays when they have to make the plays. When you have a team that’s not selfish like that and doesn’t worry about where they rank, the only thing they worry about is the turnover margin and how many points they give up.
Whenever you do that, you know you have a good group of kids around you that care about the football team and winning and not just themselves.”
It was an important win over a nationally ranked opponent, and it moved VSU to 1-0 in the Gulf South Conference. On a schedule which only includes four conference games, every game is pivotal.
“It was a real good game,” Pierce said. “Starting out 1-0 in conference, that’s always good since we have such a tough conference. You always want to start out on the right track; since we’re 1-0, that’ll help us out.”
The road only gets tougher for the Blazers, as they will now head Mississippi to take on No. 1 ranked Delta State. As if that isn’t enough pressure, the game will be televised and shown on ESPN3.
“The big thing for us is we have to go in and play mistake free,” Dean said. “We can’t get caught up in the hype of the game; of it being on TV and playing the No. 1 team in the country on the road. We can’t worry about that. Football is football. We got to line up and do our job. We won’t win the game in the first series, we won’t win the game in the first quarter, we got to be steady and keep making plays throughout the game. There’s going to be great plays made by us in the game and great plays made by Delta (State). We can’t get caught up in what just happened; we have to look to the next play.”
Not only is Delta State ranked as the top team in the country, they lead the Gulf South Conference in total offense, meaning the Blazer defense will have yet another rigorous test this week.
The Statesmen are coming off a very efficient offensive game against North Alabama where they ran for nearly 200 yards and passed for 339.
The “Black Swarm” of defenders from VSU will certainly be poised to make another statement this week. Led by Pierce, the defense will look to take the same mentality into this game with hopes of similar results.
“We take the same mentality each game. We take it just one game at a time,” said Pierce. “We just want to prepare and make sure we’re well rested and ready to play.”
For a team that has depended on making big plays in the red zone all season, Dean notes that as the biggest key heading into this week’s matchup.
“When we get in the red zone, we can’t settle for field goals,” Dean said. “We’re going to give up yards and we’ve got to bow our neck in the red zone, so I think the red zone is going to be a big key in the game. Also turnovers; you can’t give them free possessions, and some way or another, we have to create free possessions for us.”
VSU will play Delta State in Cleveland, Miss. on Saturday. Kickoff is at 8 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPN Game Plan and ESPN 3.