Even with there being no power in Bazemore-Hyder Stadium, there were plenty of electric plays to be had on the field Saturday as the Blazers blasted National Athletic Intercollegiate Association (NAIA) foe Point University (0-2) 63-10.
Caught up in the scoring barrage was a historic moment for Valdosta State University football as redshirt freshman kicker McCall Bennett became the first woman to score a point in program history.
That moment came late in the fourth quarter with the Blazers up 62-10. Bennett, who already previously made history by becoming the first woman to suit up for the Blazers in program history, made a surprise appearance on the extra point attempt.
She drilled the point after touchdown, and the crowd and sideline went into an uproar.
“It was insane,” Bennett said of the crowd’s reaction. “It’s always been my dream to play college football. My teammates are the best they could ever be. They support me through everything, and they wanted me to come out here and kick. It was just crazy. It’s a dream come true.”
It was a welcome end to what had been a tumultuous week for not only the players but for VSU and the city of Valdosta. Valdosta, along with the rest of South Georgia and North Florida, was left in ruin in the wake of Hurricane Idalia.
Head coach Tremaine Jackson cited these concerns for even playing the game, leaving it up to the players to decide whether they took the field.
“In my coaching career, I’ve had to deal with COVID and now a hurricane, so I learned a long time ago that you ask the players what they want to do because they play,” Jackson said. “We asked them if they wanted to play, and they wanted to play. They’ve worked extremely hard this fall camp. We put them through the wringer, and I felt they deserved to play and if there was a safe way for us to play this one. Mr. Reinhard and his team did a really good job of making that happen, so we definitely wanted to show up and play.”
The Blazers got off to a shaky start to open things up. After having led the offense all the way down to the Skyhawks one-yard line, junior quarterback Sammy Edwards tossed an interception to defensive back Shakwan Bickley.
Still, VSU bounced right off the mat on their next possession, marching right back down the field to score their first points of the season. Sophomore running back Isaiah Flowers capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0.
The Blazers’ defense then came up with turnovers on back-to-back possessions, first with a strip sack of quarterback Austin Adcock by junior defensive lineman Jay Hinkle. The next came on an interception as redshirt freshman linebacker Tyler Morehead picked off Adcock.
Both turnovers turned into touchdowns for the Blazers. Edwards passed and ran for a pair of touchdowns to give the Blazers a 21-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Blazers looked to add onto their lead early in the second quarter. However, they would come up empty handed as Edwards threw his second interception of the game.
Though he was critical of the miscues in the red zone, Jackson believes it was necessary for Edwards to have these mistakes so that he could grow as a player.
“We got to go look at those and see why that happened,” Jackson said. “[Edwards] just played his first full football game and didn’t even get a full four quarters in. Sammy is really young, but he’s old. He’s been here a while, so he’s young but old. I thought he needed those growing pains. You’d rather get those now than when we’re in a crucial situation. Hopefully, he won’t make those mistakes again, but I’m really proud of the way he came back and responded.”
The Blazers found themselves in the end zone once again as Flowers scored from 14 yards out. The Skyhawks finally broke through at the end of the half, knocking in a field goal to head into halftime down 28-3.
The Skyhawks opened up the second half with a bang. Wide receiver Emery Bryant caught the Blazers’ special teams unit napping on the opening kickoff and made a 94-yard house call to make it 28-10.
The Skyhawks would only make one trip past midfield for the rest of the game.
Edwards tacked on three more touchdown passes in the third quarter to three different players before being relieved for the day. Edwards finished 21 for 31 with 347 passing yards and four passing touchdowns along with 73 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown.
Edwards praised his offensive teammates for the offense’s performance.
“I felt really proud of the guys up front and am really proud of our receivers,” Edwards said. “We made a lot of plays. It wasn’t a perfect game. Moving forward, we got to get those kinks out, but other than that, I thought we had a pretty good game.”
The Blazers continued to tack on points as sophomore and redshirt freshman Darius Ocean and Seth Smith, respectively saw playing time under center. Both quarterbacks had a passing touchdown to cap off a day where the Blazers gained over 600 yards on offense.
Defensively, the Blazers were stout. The Blazers forced three turnovers and gave up just 186 total yards.
Still, Jackson believes the defense could’ve played better, citing the team’s 10 penalties for 114 yards.
“We missed some opportunities on defense as well by giving up foolish penalties, and we want to make sure that we play well on defense here,” Jackson said. “We didn’t do that a year ago. Those guys understand that. Everybody you saw on defense besides one guy wasn’t in our two-deep a year ago, so there’s a lot of new faces, a lot of guys running around.”
“There were some things that happened tonight with the ball getting out on defense, and we were able to knock the ball down. We’re moving in the right direction. We got to continue to get better and better in that unit, and I think they will,” added Jackson.
The Blazers will hit the road for the first time this season when they travel to Albany to face Albany State (0-1) on Sept. 9 at 6 p.m.
Written by Austin Bruce, Co-Editor in Chief. Photo courtesy of Austin Bruce.