Written by Gabe Burns, Asst. Sports Editor
It is common mantra in sports to say that good teams find a way to win close games. Saturday, in Cleveland, Mississippi, the Valdosta State Blazers did just that. The Blazers pulled out all the stops in a 40-34 triple overtime victory over Delta State.
This season has not been short on record-setting performances for the men in red and black. This past match-up was no different, and was perhaps the most memorable of them all.
With his 77th win, David Dean became the winningest head coach in VSU history. Running back Cedric O’Neal contributed 196 yards on the ground, making him the school’s all-time leading rusher.
“We like to make them exciting. I wish our guys knew how to put people away, but I can’t be more proud of a group of kids,” said Dean. “Just the adversity they faced in that game, over and over, and were able to still come out and win. I can’t say enough about each of those young men that made that trip out here. I’m really proud of them.”
Delta State opened the game with a Tyler Sullivan touchdown pass, but VSU quickly answered with the first of O’Neal’s three scores. Following O’Neal’s next visit to the end zone, Kenny Moore intercepted Sullivan and took it 94 yards to put the Blazers up 21-7. That is tied for the longest return in school history, and it was Moore’s second pick six in as many games.
VSU carried a 24-13 lead into halftime, but the second half saw the Statesmen come alive. Sullivan found Jarvis York in the end zone to trim the Blazers’ advantage to 27-20 late in the third stanza. Just two minutes into the fourth quarter, Sullivan went to work once again and led a drive that tied the game at 27. The Blazers missed a field goal attempt with a minute remaining, and the game went to overtime.
Despite allowing the comeback, VSU was not rattled. Roland Rivers completed a 10-yard touchdown throw to Donovan Bolden in the first overtime, but Delta State answered swiftly. In the second overtime, both teams lost fumbles to push the game to a third extra period.
The contest ended in appropriate fashion—via an O’Neal touchdown run. Delta State once again fumbled on their final opportunity, and Mat Mathews recovered to clinch the thrilling win. The Blazers, in large part due to the exceptional performance of O’Neal, are a win away from the postseason.
“Breaking this record with these guys, the offensive line, Coach Dean, and all of my friends, I couldn’t be happier,” said O’Neal, the Gulf South Conference’s leading rusher in 2015. “I credit this record to our offensive line.”
VSU’s final regular season contest will be a challenge when it hosts Florida tech, which recently upset No. 1 West Georgia. It is a homecoming, must-win battle for VSU.