Written By: Chris Webb
Six weeks ago Valdosta State was coming off a crushing 31-29 last second loss to No. 15 North Alabama and stood in with a mediocre record of only 2-2.
Head coach David Dean then challenged his football team to something: win their remaining games and give themselves a shot at the playoffs; they’ve done just that so far.
VSU has gone on a five-game winning streak, outscoring their opponents 199-36, only giving up three touchdowns during that span.
“I’ve been very pleased with how this group has made this five game run and put us in a spot to win that sixth and get into the playoffs,” coach Dean said. “I’m even more proud in how we have improved each week. We are continuing to come together as a team.”
No. 25 VSU (7-2, 4-2) will look to make it six in a row and clinch a playoff spot when they travel to Melbourne, Florida this Saturday to take on an impressive second year program in Florida Tech (6-4, 3-3).
Looking at the FIT offense though, it’s easy to believe this program has been around for years.
Lead by the seven time Gulf South Conference freshman of the week quarterback Mark Cato, wide receiver Xavier Milton, and fullback Trevor Sand, the Panther offense is a well balanced attack that has given multiple opponents trouble this year.
Milton and Sand lead the GSC in receiving and rushing yards respectively. Milton has 1,011 yards on 69 catches and 9 touchdowns, while Sand has 1,058 rushing yards on 161 carries.
With all these weapons to account for, Dean is aware of the challenges his defense has ahead of them.
“They are always able to match scores which is the sign of a good football team; if their defense gives up a touchdown their offense just comes out and drives it down to score,” Dean said. “They execute really well and (Milton) is very, very good if you give him room.”
However, matching the hot play of the FIT offense is a Blazer defense that has no plans in watching their season end early.
“We are just going to keep doing what we have been doing,” linebacker and leading tackler Kenny Murphy said. “We are just going to keep buying into what coach (Bubba) Walker is telling us. We all have confidence in each other to make the play and I think its showing out there.”
Entering the final week of the regular season VSU’s “Black Swarm” defense has looked just as the name implies.
Allowing just less than 16 points per game, the Black Swarm is ranked first in the GSC and 12th nationally in points allowed.
Offensively, the Blazers have looked like a well-oiled machine for a majority of the season averaging over 35 points a game.
Dean credits the success to the balance his offense has shown, averaging over 220 rushing yards and 245 passing yards a game.
“Being as balanced as we have has been huge for us,” Dean said. “You’re not able to key on one specific thing. That’s what happened last week with UNC-Pembroke, they tried to stop our run and we ended up passing for over 300 yards. It’s been a blessing to be able to take advantage of what defenses want to give us this year.”
Quarterback Kaleb Nobles is expected to get the start behind center yet again with starter Jake Medlock out nursing a knee injury for the second straight week.
Nobles stepped up to the challenge last week and thrived in the spotlight finishing the game going 24-38 for 308 yards and four touchdowns.
VSU remains hopeful Medlock will be available for the playoffs if they can escape from Melbourne with a win.