Written by Aldean Starr, Staff Writer
On a record setting day at Bazemore-Hyder stadium, the Valdosta State Blazers football team gave their 2315 fans and viewers in attendance a treat with an amazing comeback performance last Saturday. The No.17 Valdosta State Blazers went to battle against the No.22 Carson Newman Eagles and the two teams showed why they were ranked and how competitive the playoff atmosphere is.
The game started off with a 10-3 lead in the first quarter by Carson-Newman but the action quickly picked up offensively as the two teams scored a total of 38 second quarter points with Carson-Newman taking a 31-20 lead into halftime. The two teams went back and forth in the second quarter with the Blazers passing game keeping them in the game with Hilliard throwing for two touchdowns while the run game was in a struggle. The Blazers defense also struggled while the Carson-Newman offense looked unstoppable scoring on every drive in the second quarter until the very last seconds before the half in which the defense made one of their biggest plays on the day. On 2nd and goal at the Valdosta State three yard line, Carson Newman was forced into a passing situation with no timeouts and 14 seconds left in the half and on this play freshman Malcolm McClenton showed one of the reasons he was Valdosta State’s first ever GSC defensive freshman of the year. McClenton made a very athletic interception a pass from Carson-Newman quarterback De’Andre Thomas that kept the Blazers from going to halftime with a three possessions deficit.
“I knew that was going to end up being a huge play in the game, because they had another down and could have kicked a field goal,” Head Coach David Dean said.
After halftime the Blazers got off to a quick start with a touchdown drive but was not able to do much else that quarter with Carson-Newman holding them to 18 yards of total offense in the third quarter after their first drive and the Tigers went into the fourth quarter with a 45-27 point lead.
The fourth quarter proved to be the most exciting with the two teams combining for 48 fourth quarter points and with the Blazers being responsible for 34 of them. The blazers came in a group effort and put up one of the most exciting comebacks in their history “There’s a lot of fight in these guys and you can tell on the sideline that we were not done, we still believed,” Coach Dean stated. The Blazers started their run with a long drive and short touchdown run by running back Cedric O’Neal. The Blazers defense took a stand with recording their first three & out/punt of the game on the next drive, which started a streak where the Blazers defense allowed two consecutive non-scoring drives including a fourth down stop in the Tigers territory. With the help of the defensive stops, the Blazers offense was able to put together three consecutive touchdown drives including an extraordinary 41 yard touchdown run by O’Neal that gave the Blazers their first lead of the game at 46-45.
“I really don’t know where that came from, I guess it was just the hype of the game, just watching our defense make stops, and coach calling the play at the right time and credit to our offensive line,” O’Neal said.
The game ended with the two teams exchanging touchdowns back and forth that gave the Blazers the ball with 43 seconds on the clock at their own 31 and three timeouts. The Blazers then used great clock management and ball movement to cap off the game with a 28 yard touchdown pass from Hilliard to wide receiver Greg Dent that left no time on the clock and gave the Blazers a 61-59 victory in their first round of the playoffs.
“I wasn’t expecting to get the ball because they had three safeties back there but I ran my route and the safeties just opened up the middle of the field and I looked back as EJ threw the ball and as I was turning up I didn’t see anybody coming but the outside safety so I just kept running,” Dent said when speaking about his game winning reception.
The Blazers top performers brought their best when they needed it with O’Neal rushing for 137 yards (94 were in the fourth quarter along with three touchdowns) on 19 attempts, with the three touchdowns, O’Neal set a new season rushing record for Valdosta State. Quarterback EJ Hilliard threw for 448 passing yards and four touchdowns, the passing yards in this game is the second most for any Valdosta State player in a playoff game. The Blazers also set a record with total offense in a game by gaining 682 total yards of offense on the day.
The Blazers next contest will be against No.7 West Georgia, the team that eliminated the Blazers from playoff contention last season and handed them a 49-28 loss this year. The game will be at noon this Saturday in Carrolton, GA.