VSU’s undefeated season is no more.
The No. 19 Blazers (5-1, 2-1 Gulf South Conference) couldn’t overcome a turnover-plagued day by the offense, falling to the No. 8 Delta State Statesmen (6-0, 4-0 GSC) 49-25 Saturday afternoon.
An emotional Tremaine Jackson, head coach of the Blazers, still has high hopes for the season despite the loss.
“We’re not going to abandon one another, man,” Jackson said. “We live in a time when people abandon folks. I’ve been abandoned around here. I’m not going to abandon those kids just because they made a mistake. … That’s a good football team in that locker room. It was hand-chosen, hand-picked. Folks don’t know what we’ve been through. I’m still excited about this football team, and so we’ll just go back to work.”
Though both teams turned the ball over three times apiece, it was junior quarterback Sammy Edwards’ two interceptions in the waning moments of the first half that proved costly.
With the Blazers trailing 21-17, Edwards and the offense took the ball to midfield in hopes of recapturing the lead just before the break. Instead of scoring, however, Edwards was picked off by defensive back Carl Hopkins, who then returned it 47 yards. The Statesmen would score on the next play to make it 28-17.
The Blazers again moved the ball down the field on their next drive. Much like the previous one, though, Edwards was picked off. This time, Edwards underthrew the ball and was intercepted in the end zone by defensive back Malik Jones to all but end the half.
With another score on their opening drive of the second half, the Statesmen turned what was a 17-14 deficit into a 35-17 lead in just over five minutes of game time and never looked back.
“We made some bad throws,” Jackson said. “It was right before the half, the two picks before the half. It’s kind of what put us back, and so you can’t turn the ball over against a good football team.”
Up to that point, the Blazers had largely held their own against the Statesmen.
The game started with a scoring flurry. The first four drives of the game ended in touchdowns, all of which coming on the ground. The first non-scoring drive of the game came late in the first quarter — a three-and-out for the Blazers.
Still, the Blazers rose to the occasion on defense, forcing quarterback Patrick Shegog into an interception, his first of the season. It was graduate defensive back Kyle Cass in on the pick, beating the receiver to the punch and coming up with the turnover.
The Blazers were unable to take advantage, however, stalling out near midfield and having to punt. That didn’t stop Cass from coming up with his second interception of the day on Delta State’s ensuing drive.
Again, though, Edwards and the offense couldn’t reach the end zone, instead settling for a chip-shot field goal from graduate kicker Estin Thiele. The Blazers got down inside the Statesmen five-yard-line before being pushed back by the Delta State defense.
“When you don’t get the three points off two takeaways, it’s not very good,” Jackson said. “You want to get 14. We had a chance to go up 28-14 if we do that. Then, you put them in a different ballgame. … We got to get points off turnovers. When we do turn people over, you got to get those points, and that’s football 101.”
The Statesmen bounced back, taking their first lead of the game on a 37-yard run by running back Kelvin Smith. Following the events to the end the first half, Delta State stretched the lead to 18 on a 19-yard run by running back Christian Malloy.
Those two scores were just part of a powerful rushing attack for the Statesmen. For the game, Delta State racked up 417 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
“Their quarterback is hurt,” Jackson said. “They don’t want to run him. They don’t want to add him to the fit like they normally do. They didn’t want to sit him back there because they knew we would pressure him, and so they just went to the run game, and they committed to it.”
The Blazers finally answered the Statesmen’s scoring burst midway through the third quarter. Junior running back G’Mone Wilson scored from 16 yards out, with Edwards running it in on the two-point conversion to make it 35-25.
It was not enough to deter the Statesmen. Smith reached the end zone for the third time on the next possession to put Delta State up 42-25.
Feeling the direness of the situation, the Blazers gambled on a fourth-and-five at midfield. Edwards pass attempt to redshirt freshman wide receiver Rodney Bullard fell incomplete, though, giving the ball back to the Statesmen.
Things got sloppy at the start of the fourth quarter. The Blazers came up with a goal-line stand to start things off but were quickly forced to punt deep in their own territory.
Looking to put the game away, running back Tamaj Hoffman broke off for the end zone. However, graduate defensive back Nick Jackson knocked the ball free, and the ball went out the back of the end zone for a touchback.
The Blazers again went for it on fourth down at midfield. This time, Edwards threw his third interception of the game as linebacker William Jenkins caught it on a ricochet to end the drive.
The Statesmen tacked on another touchdown — a nine-yard toss from Shegog to wide receiver Calvin Lockett — for good measure, ending any hopes of a VSU comeback.
The Blazers have lived by the motto “remember Lot’s wife” throughout the season. Jackson says that accountability will be crucial to move forward from the loss.
“You have to take accountability,” Jackson said. “Remember Lot’s wife does not allow you not to take the accountability that it happens. You take the accountability — we’ll do that on tomorrow — and then we won’t look back.”
The Blazers will travel to Clinton, Mississippi, to face the Mississippi College Choctaws (2-3, 1-2 GSC) on Oct. 14 at 3 p.m.
Written by Austin Bruce, Co-Editor in Chief. Photo courtesy of Austin Bruce.