Written by Tiarra Bell, Staff Writer
With playoff hopes on the line, Valdosta State (7-2, 4-2 GSC) will cap off Homecoming week on Saturday, Nov. 14, when they host the Florida Tech Panthers (7-3, 5-1 GSC).
This football contest will be pretty big no matter what, with the game representing not only Homecoming, but also the Blazer’s last regular season and home game as they hunt for both a Gulf South Conference championship and a chance to clinch a playoff berth.
The Blazers come into the weekend riding high after running the gauntlet over the past four weeks, taking down Mississippi College, Shorter, West Alabama, and defeating Delta State this past weekend 40-34 in triple overtime.
Valdosta State’s Cedric O’Neal made history against Delta State, when he became Valdosta State’s all-time rushing leader with 3,907 yards. In addition, O’Neal’s three touchdowns on the night boosted him to a GSC-leading 13 touchdowns on the season.
With it being wide receiver Greg Dent’s first year playing at Valdosta State, he thought they couldn’t be beat, but with the back-to-back two losses, head coach David Dean reminded the players, “It’s not how we start, it’s how we finish.”
“That’s the mentality we have going from every practice to every game,” Dent said. “For Florida Tech, we just have to continue to play a complete game on offense, defense, and special teams. Our defense has been on a roll these last two games and they have to take it into this game. As for offense, we have to stay explosive.”
Valdosta State comes into this week averaging 182.3 rushing yards per game and producing 225.56 passing yards.
The Blazers will meet the Panthers for the third time in their history. The Blazers squeezed out their second win in the series, 31-29 last season.
In last season’s meeting, Valdosta State established a double-digit lead in the second half, but survived an 80-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Mark Cato that pulled the Panthers within two points with 2:15 left in the final quarter.
The Blazers iced the victory by recovering the ensuing on-side kick.
Coming off a six-game winning streak this year, Florida Tech is playing just its third season of football.
The Panthers are averaging 31.6 points per game, while holding their opponents to 23.5 points.
At this point in the season, Florida Tech is nearly equivalent in production from both components of its offense. The team is averaging 184.3 rushing yards per game, down from 198.9 in 2014. They have produced 256.5 passing yards each game this season, from 288.7 last year.
Cato has thrown for 1,854 yards, with 18 touchdowns. Running back Antwuan Haynes has been a good contributor for the Panthers this season, producing 1,132 all-purpose yards, while Trevor Sand leads the team rushing 657 yards this season.
Chris Stapleton leads the FIT defense with 80 tackles, while J.J. Sanders leads the team with seven sacks.
This past weekend, the Panthers pulled off one of the bigger upsets in Division II over the No.1 ranked West Georgia (9-1, 5-1 GSC), handing the Wolves their first loss of the season. The final score was 28-26.
No. 23 Valdosta State and Florida Tech stand as two of the top 10 teams in the NCAA Super Region II. The NCAA selected the much anticipated contest as the Division II Football Game of the Week for Saturday.
The matchup will be aired live on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app. Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m. at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium in Valdosta.