The No. 19 Blazers (5-0, 2-0 Gulf South Conference) will be facing their biggest test of the season to date when they face off against the No. 8 Delta State Statesmen (5-0, 3-0 GSC) Saturday at 2 p.m.
In addition to being a top 20 matchup, Delta State and VSU are the last two undefeated teams in the GSC.
Head coach Tremaine Jackson didn’t downplay the challenge that lies ahead.
“[It’s] a tall tree to climb,” Jackson said. “They do a good job of scheming, getting their playmakers the ball offensively. Then, they do a good job up front on defense, and they turn the front free. They play with sound coverage on the back end. They’re a really sound, good football team, and they don’t make a lot of mistakes. We’ve got to really be on.”
The Statesmen have largely cruised through the first half of the season. Delta State has won by an average score of 46-16, including an average margin of 48-18 in conference play.
However, it has been the second and third quarters where the Statesmen have done most of their damage. The Statesmen hold a plus-97 scoring margin in those two frames of the game.
Jackson emphasized the need for his team to play their brand of football to match DSU’s midgame scoring bursts.
“We have yet to play four quarters of how we want to play football,” Jackson said. “There’s no better time to do that than in this week. We’ve been emphasizing to establish the way that we play early [and to] maintain it because they get really hot in the second and third quarters. We got to maintain and exceed the energy out there.”
The Blazers will look to match that intensity with a passing game that ranks first in the GSC. In last week’s 51-36 win over Chowan, junior quarterback Sammy Edwards completed 20 of 29 passes for 393 yards and six touchdowns. Edwards has now thrown for 1,591 yards and 15 touchdowns on the season.
Defensively, VSU will be tasked with slowing down dual-threat quarterback Patrick Shegog. Shegog has thrown for 1,190 yards and 16 touchdowns while also leading the Statesmen in rushing with 324 yards and five touchdowns.
This is the teams’ second straight year meeting while both being ranked. Last year, it was the Statesmen who came out on top as they routed the Blazers 70-31 in Cleveland, Mississippi.
While the loss has resonated with the players and the staff that were there, Jackson says it doesn’t have much of an effect on the team.
“Obviously, if you were one of the players or coaches that was there, that kind of stuck on you,” Jackson said. “We’ve tried to RLW, as we say—remember Lot’s wife—and not look back at that. We’re so different right now than we were then until it doesn’t have any meaning for us.”
Jackson stressed the importance of this game being at home. Saturday marked the first top 25 matchup in Bazemore-Hyder Stadium since 2021.
“Since I’ve been here, we haven’t had a large extreme crowd,” Jackson said. “We didn’t have a product to bring people out. Now, I believe we have a product, and so I’m eager to see our fans show up. Get out the coffee shop. Stop wondering what we are, buy a ticket and come see for yourself.”
Jackson is also hoping that those who attend the Winnersville Classic Friday night will be in the stands Saturday.
“We need all the surrounding counties,” Jackson said. “We need all of Valdosta. We need everybody, and [there’s] no better week to do it than in Winnersville week. You’re going to be there Friday night, so just pitch a tent and stay until Saturday afternoon. Hopefully, we can provide the same type of atmosphere.”
Written by Austin Bruce, Co-Editor in Chief. Photo courtesy of Austin Bruce.