Though much of the focus was on the Blazers’ offense prior to their conference opener, it was the defense that made the biggest statement.
The Black Swarm stifled the North Greenville Crusaders (2-2, 1-1 Gulf South Conference) to help lead the Blazers (4-0, 1-0 GSC) to a 28-3 win on Family Weekend.
“We play defense now at Valdosta State,” head coach Tremaine Jackson said of his team’s defensive performance. “I told people to keep the faith, and hopefully they kept it, because we did and now our guys are trying to play great defense.”
Offensively, the Blazers were tasked with scoring against a North Greenville defense that led the GSC in scoring at just 14.3 points per game.
They almost matched that number in just one quarter.
Junior quarterback Sammy Edwards led the Blazers right down the field on the opening possession. However, it was sophomore running back Bud Chaney who capped the drive off with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone.
A few possessions later, Edwards connected with graduate wide receiver Xavier Williams downfield for a 48-yard gain. Chaney found the end zone again four plays later on a 3-yard run to give VSU a 14-0 advantage.
Jackson was proud of his team’s fast start to the game.
“[The Crusaders] were a start fast team, and we were able to exceed their starting fast,” Jackson said. “We started fast today, and so we’re really proud of our coaches and players for doing that. We noticed that all week, and we were able to achieve it tonight.”
The Crusaders scored their only points of the game on the ensuing drive. North Greenville was forced to settle for a 50-yard field goal after their drive stalled out just outside VSU’s 30-yard line.
The Blazers extended their lead with a lengthy 12-play, 80-yard drive that lasted nearly six and a half minutes. Junior tight end Noah Gillan found himself on the receiving end of a three-yard touchdown pass to put VSU up 21-3.
The Crusaders found themselves in the red zone on their next drive. Their stay would be short-lived though, as graduate defensive back Bryon Broussard picked off quarterback Dylan Ramirez to end the first half.
The Blazers scored once more on their first offensive possession of the second half. Edwards completed a 49-yard bomb to sophomore wide receiver Ted Hurst on a third-and-17 to put VSU at the Crusaders’ 5-yard line. Chaney then ran it in from 5 yards out for his third touchdown of the night.
Jackson had high praise for Chaney’s performance but also thought his team, which finished with just 44 rushing yards, could have run it better.
“He’s a big time back, especially inside the 10-yard line,” Jackson said. “He makes it happen. People are not going to allow us to just run the football in the field. They’re going to load the box up, and they did that tonight. We got to get some stuff looked at on the offensive line to see how we can still control the ball, but he showed up really big and he did last week as well.”
The Black Swarm took over the game from there, making three consecutive stops in the red zone.
The first of those came just on the edge of the goal line near the end of the third quarter. Backup quarterback Ty Gossett was inserted into the game for a quarterback draw on fourth-and-goal. However, he was met behind the line of scrimmage by multiple Blazers to force a turnover on downs.
“When it gets close—we don’t want it to be that close down by the end zone—but when it does, they tighten up,” Jackson said of the play. “I’m really proud of our group for keeping that team out of the end zone.”
The Crusaders’ next trip inside the VSU 20 ended just as quickly as it started. A 15-yard completion turned into a fumble recovery for the Blazers as junior defensive back La’Ken Nettles knocked the ball free from wide receiver Ahmari Coats.
North Greenville’s last gasp was shut down by the Black Swarm via another turnover on downs. That allowed the Blazers to effectively bleed out the clock on offense.
Jackson credited the defense’s aggression as he hopes they can build on their strong performance.
“We’re trying to be aggressive,” Jackson said. “We’re trying to hit with velocity. We had a fumble come out just because a guy didn’t quit and he hit with velocity, so we’re really excited about that. Hopefully, we can build on it. Hopefully, we can keep people out the end zone completely, off the scoreboard completely, but really proud of their efforts.”
The Blazers will have a chance to match last year’s win total when they travel to Murfreesboro, North Carolina, to face the Chowan Hawks (0-4, 0-2 GSC) on Sept. 30 at 1 p.m.
Written by Austin Bruce, Co-Editor in Chief. Photo courtesy of Austin Bruce.